Sydney's Space Aces: Father-Son DIY Exploration
Danika Wilkinson
at 11:18 AM Jan 17 2012
Sydney's Space Aces: Father-Son DIY Exploration
Robert and Jason Brand enjoy a ginger beer after a successful space launch
R&J Brand
Space // 

In between playing Xbox and surfing the web, the average Australian kid may build a billycart or cubby-house with his dad. But Sydney's Jason Brand isn't your average kid. At the ripe old age of 9, Jason has launched a weather balloon a quarter of the way into space.

59-year-old Sydneysider Robert Brand is an old hand at space exploration. In his university term break, at age 17, Mr Brand helped wire the Apollo 11 communications gear. By 1986, he was stationed at the Parkes "dish" (on request of the European Space Agency) to monitor the spacecraft Giotto's close encounter with Halley's comet. And his support of STS-1, the first orbital flight of the space shuttle program, earned him an award from NASA. And now it's his son, Jason's, time to shine.

Late last year, in Goolgowi, central NSW, the Brands launched their custom-built weather balloon 85,000 feet (25.9 kilometres) into the sky, before it burst - plummeting back down to Earth.

"During the flight we were actually relaying data back to the ground and off to a server and that allowed people from all over the world to actually participate with this flight and track it as it was going," Mr Brand told the Sydney Morning Herald.

As well as this, the balloon captured still images, which Mr Brand has posted on his blog WotzUp.

Mr Brand said the balloon was a way for school children to get a better understanding about space. In fact, the balloon itself wasn't built by highly-trained space experts, but by a team of high-school students from Sydney Secondary College at Blackwattle Bay.

The project required students to engage in a whole lot of material testing - for example, they studied the way styrofoam reacted in zero-atmosphere, and discovered the benfits of bubble wrap.

"You'd be surprised to know that bubble wrap doesn't explode when it gets into pretty much zero atmosphere", Mr Brand told the SMH.

A view over country NSW at the balloon's highest point, right before it popped.

According to the balloon's flight tracker, after exploding from unbearable amounts of pressure the craft fell back to Earth at a rate of 40 metres per second. But it wasn't a crash landing; the parachute kicked in just above the ground to lower it at a speed of 6 metres per second.

After that, it was just a matter of finding the balloon.

The inbuilt GPS tracker led Mr Brand and his son to an "abandoned" farm, 50 kilometres away in the small town of Weethalle, NSW.

The team found their balloon's payload, include camera and tracking equipment, fully intact.

Mr Brand hopes the success of his expedition will get more children involved in science, maths, and space exploration.

"I'll keep doing this each year and trying to get . . . more interest in the school year earlier in the year. I'm very keen to hear from people that might be interested in getting involved."

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