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One Man's DIY Space Photography Has NASA Calling

Robert Harrison, a 38-year-old father, IT director, and Brit, isn’t your typical space photographer.
March 30, 2010, 7:50pm

Browse a slideshow of Harrison’s set-up and space images above.

Robert Harrison, a 38-year-old father, IT director, and Brit, isn’t your typical space photographer. But recently his Flickr caught NASA’s eye. A couple of years back, Robert was trying to take aerial photos of his house, using a remote control helicopter. When that didn’t work, he looked into high altitude balloons – the kind used for weather observation. He has since sent up 12 of the balloons, each toting a cheap digital camera, taking incredible photos and video capturing 1,000 miles of the Earth’s surface.

Robert picked up a used Canon on eBay, and hooked it up to a radio transmitter and GPS locator. He programs the cameras to take pictures and video periodically before shutting down, then wraps the electronics in insulation bought from the local hardware store to prepare it for extreme stratospheric cold. The helium balloon has a diameter of one meter on the ground; as air pressure decreases with altitude, it expands up to 20 meters in diameter. The balloons rise up to 22 miles into the air — not exactly space, which begins at around sixty miles, but high enough to set a high altitude balloon record. The balloons eventually pop, and the camera parachutes back to England, where Robert follows the GPS and to pick it up. The whole thing only costs him about 700 dollars – which is precisely why NASA came calling.

“A guy phoned up who worked for Nasa who was interested in how we took the pictures,” Mr Harrison told The London Times. “He wanted to know how the hell we did it. He thought we used a rocket. They said it would have cost them millions of dollars.” Harrison explained that he knows little about electronics, and had learned everything from the browsing the internet. Given NASA’s new budget realities, perhaps Harrison’s technique will mean fewer rockets and more duct taped balloons with “USA” printed (or magic-markered) on the side.