How much would it cost you to launch a camera nearly 20 miles above earth to take some pictures? Tens of thousands of dollars? Hundreds of thousands?
Nope, not with a bit of ingenuity and a smattering of luck, as evidenced by a group of four students and their teacher in Spain who accomplished the feat for a few hundred dollars. They strapped a Nikon Coolpix L10 digital camera to a latex balloon and off it went! All right, I'm simplifying the process; the balloon's payload also involved some custom electronics wizardry and the help of Google Earth, but the cost was still very low.
The team was hoping to reach 30,000 feet, but the balloon made it to 100,000 before
popping deflating and falling back to earth, where the team recovered the memory card from the camera. One of the most fascinating aspects of the story to me is that they recovered the craft just 10km from where they launched. That sounds like nearly a straight up and down flight, doesn't it? The team anticipated the craft would rise at 270 meters/minute. Assuming that estimate was correct, it'd take about 113 minutes to hit 100,000 feet. Plus a few minutes to come back down, so let's round it to 120 minutes of flight. That's a 5 km/hour horizontal speed, which seems pretty still for those heights. Of course it may not have traveled in a straight line.
Anyway enough geeking out. It's a pretty amazing story, and you should check out the team's Flickr page or get all the details on the flight at the Telegraph's article, Teens capture images of space with £56 camera and balloon.