Sunday, January 29, 2012

'LEGO Man' reaches near-space, video goes viral

Sorry, U.S. teens: a pair of 17-year-old Canadians have beaten you, using a weather balloon to send a flag-toting Lego figure into ... well, not space as some have claimed, but pretty darned high up.  While the Lego man did go quite high, so did its YouTube viewing figures, high enough to be called viral.

Toronto teens Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad worked over four months of Saturdays and $400 to assemble the atmospheric package, carried by a weather balloon: four cameras, a cell phone including a GPS app, a homemade parachute and a Lego figure holding a Canadian flag.

The package rose to about 80,000 feet in altitude, which is high, but not high enough to qualify as "Lego man in space," as the viral video is labeled. Space is said to begin at about 100 km, or 62 miles, which is about 327,000 feet, or about 4x as high as the balloon reached (so yes, they didn't even get to "near space," technically, but still ...).

According to the pair's calculations, the package had risen to about 80,000 feet in one hour and five minutes, when the balloon exploded, after which time the Lego man began a 32-minute descent, slowed by the homemade parachute.

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The video, which has about 1.7 million views at the time of this writing, shows Lego man, not quite reaching space, but definitely high above the Earth. You can view it below.

Dr. Michael Reid, a University of Toronto astrophysics professor noted that similar projects have been undertaken by PhD students, and to see something like this done by high school students, well, ... "It shows a tremendous degree of resourcefulness. For two 17-year-olds to accomplish this on their own is pretty impressive."

Speaking of college students, Ho said that he envisioned the project two summers ago when he saw a video of a balloon sent to near space by some MIT students. In terms of their own college careers, Ho wants to a commerce degree and become an entrepreneur, while Muhammad into looking at a number of engineering programs.

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