Alexei Karpenko put together a system consisting of GPS, camera, sensors and communications, sent it to an altitude of 30km, and retrieved it on the ground after a parachute landing. The photos and videos he took are stunning.
High altitude ballooning is an emerging hobby, since price of GPS and communications equipment has gotten quite low. It is an excellent hobby for people fascinated by space flight and telerobotics and has many learning aspects – from systems design to electronics design to software engineering. There is also an exciting risk factor, namely, that you could lose your precious electronics if something malfunctions. In this project, many of my interest and knowledge areas came together. Also, I have verified that the Earth is indeed round and that space is black.Bre Pettis of MAKE also built and launched a near-space balloon, but never found it. See his videos (part 1 and 2).
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects