Saturday, May 4, 2013

NIGHTMARES - or Everything That Can Possibly Go WRONG!

I think it's prudent to caution my readers about sending anything up to "near space" - the 30,000 meter, 100,000 feet, 20 mile range.  My one word of advice to anyone even thinking about doing this would be -- DON'T.

There are plenty of things that can go wrong.  I got lucky - and having achieved what I set out to do, wouldn't do it again.  But that's me.  For those of you who are still interested, here are some of the things that can ruin your day.

The balloon is big  It can break.  And it ain't cheap.  I don't know about you - but I wouldn't want to be anywhere near one of those babies when they pop - which is why I had my wife hold our balloon during the launch. Weather balloons, despite their size are incredibly delicate and must be handled extremely carefully.  Someone suggested that I get a couple of hundred condoms, fill them with helium and let them go.  The problem  would be that they wouldn't burst all at once and the balloon could drift for a very long time.  Funny idea though...

Let's talk about drift.  Sure.  Send it up.  Fine.  But where does it wind up?  You might have clearance to launch/fly your balloon in your territory - I had clearance to fly mine in Canada.  However, if your balloon drifts across an international boundary, you must have clearance for that and any other territory it may cross.  Had my balloon drifted into the United States, I'd probably be a guest of Homeland Security today.  I was reasonably sure that my balloon would not drift across Lake Ontario into New York State - we launched from far enough North to ensure that.  However, the winds took it (unexpectedly) WEST.  Had it crossed Lake Huron into Michigan (which could have reasonably happened), I would have been in big trouble.

MORE DRIFT.  Balloons cannot fly over populated areas.  You are liable for any damage that they may cause when they come down.  Should your parachute system fail, you could have nearly 4 pounds of junk slamming into the ground at terminal velocity which is nearly 200 miles per hour.  I don't think that my insurance would cover that.

EVEN MORE DRIFT.  Airplanes.  The last thing that you want, is your balloon to hit any kind of aircraft.  This would be catastrophic - and as I said many, many times before the launch - "It's all fun and games until you cause a 747 to crash".

There are rules and regulations from Transport Canada and The FAA which must be followed.  Look them up online.  Also - check the rules and regulations of neighboring territories.  I don't know if the rules vary from state to state or province to province - but be aware of that.

To Boldly Go...

Internet research told me there were two ways to go about sending something into space (balloon version).  Number one - assemble all the stuff myself, or - Number 2 - find someone who knew what they were doing.

Most of the people who'd sent high profile projects (The Lego Astronaut, Hello Kitty, etc.)  to 'near space' had gone the "backyard bomber" route, cobbling rigs together by themselves.  While this might be the less expensive method - buying a weather balloon, finding a cheap camera and GPS, etc. - my concern was that I needed to get my payload back.  Getting it up there - no problem.  Getting it back - possibly big problems.

My underlying philosophy was that I was sending the most deserving thing - something that should have gone into space, but had NEVER been sent into space - into space.  I was going to be the first person to send STAR TREK's Enterprise into space - and I needed proof.  I needed to get the videos back.  Otherwise, it was all just talk.

I spoke with my pals at Active Surplus, one of my favorite stores in Toronto and a veritable Alladin's Cave of technical treasures.  Graham, the manager at the Steeles Avenue store suggested that I contact Environment Canada, which I did.  After waiting a considerable amount of time on the phone, I decided to pay a visit to their head office, where I was kept waiting an even more considerable amount of time.  Eventually some staffer came by, took my name and promised to get right back to me.  I'm still waiting.

At this point, I decided to try method Number 2 - Find someone who actually knew what they were doing.  Back to the internet - where I very quickly found High Altitude Science.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


Once I had the idea to put my model U.S.S. Enterprise into Space, there came the inevitable questions - like, HOW AM I GOING TO DO IT?

Face it, it's easy to get something up there - enough Helium and "away we go!".  The problem is getting it back safely and not killing yourself (or anyone else) in the process.  It's all fun-and-games until your payload is sucked into a 747's engine.  Or a part falls off at 100,000' and puts a 6" crater in someone's head.

And how do you get it back?  Between you and me - I can't afford to lose my iPhone - so there has to be a better way to do this.

Then there's the "permission".  Are you even allowed to send a balloon into space?  Kids do it all the time and they get away with it.  But they're just kids, so the government agencies tend to turn a blind eye.  But I'm an adult and there are rules, regulations and laws that have to be obeyed - at your own peril! (I'm sure that kids' parents would be liable for any damage caused by their "science experiments".)  Word to the wise, this is not something to be taken lightly.

So, I turned to the Interweb - source of all human knowledge.  And what I found, told me exactly - NOTHING!


My background is as a writer, producer, director of Kids' and Family Television.  You can find me on IMDB easily enough.  I produced The Magic School Bus (season one), created the sound effects for The Inspector Gadget Show, served as Executive Story Editor on Atomic Betty - and created (wrote, produced and directed) Freaky Stories.  I did a whole lot more, but those are the highlights.

Over the years, I worked on a lot of good shows, with a lot of great people.  As all great things do - my career came to an end - so I reinvented myself.  I run Media Literacy workshops in the Toronto Canada area.  They're called PUPPETS COOL! - and yes, we make puppets.  And we do other cool stuff - lots of it.  I like to think that PUPPETS COOL! is about unleashing the power of imagination.

We live in amazing times.  Science and technology have brought us most of the things promised in the Sci-Fi movies of my youth.  We have rockets (You rock, Burt Rutan!), robotics are booming.  The silver suits and flying cars?  Well...  There's still hope.  The point is, technology has made it easy - and cheap to achieve the things that I dreamed about when I was a boy.

So about 6 months ago while contemplating my STAR TREK (Special Edition) Blu-Ray case - shaped like a model of the U.S.S. Enterprise - the thought hit me, "This would look REALLY cool in space."

And so, the adventure began...