Three MIT Students Take Near-Space Photos On a Budget of...$150?!

After looking at the photos, you'd swear they were taken from a NASA spacecraft. But NASA didn't have anything to do with these images.

Oliver Yeh, Justin Lee, and Eric Newton, three students at MIT, constructed a high-altitude research vehicle using a latex balloon, a plastic parachute, and a styrofoam beer cooler. Inside the cooler was a payload consisting of a $50 Motorola prepaid GPS-enabled cell phone, a $40 Canon A470 point-and-shoot camera, and disposable hand warmers to protect the electronics from the -55˚C temperatures of the upper stratosphere.

The rig flew to a calculated altitude of 93,000 feet. The 5-hour, 20-mile journey produced stunning images that show the blackness of space and the curvature of Earth's horizon.That's right. Return-trip flights to 18 miles above the Earth's surface, with pictures, on a budget of $150.

One of the coolest things about this project is that anyone can do it. In fact, the team will be soon offering plans on how to build your very own high-flyer. Think about the possibilities! With the economy downsizing and the scrutiny put on NASA in recent months, what better way to rekindle the fire of the space program than by high school science teachers encouraging students to take on such a project?