A group of California middle and high school students in the foothills of the Sierras have found a way to routinely send cameras and instruments to the edge of space.
And not only are they making important scientific observations, but they are funding the project through private contributions and selling souvenirs that have been to space.
"Earth to Sky Calculus" is a group of students led by their teacher Dr. Tony Phillips.
They have developed a lunchbox sized set of instruments that they launch with large helium balloons. The balloons travel to 120,000 feet or higher into the stratosphere. At this altitude the daytime sky goes black, the stars come out, temperatures drop to -70 degrees and you can see the curve of the earth. Atmospheric pressure is only 1 percent of the earth's surface. The balloon eventually pops and the instrument package parachutes back to earth, where the students usually recover it within Death Valley National Park.
Students have experimented with various sensors to measure temperature and importantly radiation.
Radiation at these altitudes may be important for future space tourists.
The student's program is providing scientists with regular information on how radiation in this region behaves as the solar activity varies. This could be critical as increasing numbers of people traverse space.
The students are very creative when it comes to funding their research.
For a $500 fee, they will send small items into space as part of a mission. People have proposed, sent photos of loved ones or just a personal item that they can say has been to the edge of space.
And in case you don't have anything you want to be flown into space, the students have a catalog of items that they have flown that you can buy as a gift or a memento. Not a moon rock but till pretty cool!
To learn more about their project, click here.