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Lego Man Goes to Space!

January 31st, 2012

Photo credit: Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammed

What Lego figure needs the Lego Space Shuttle set to launch into imaginary space … when it can catch its own ride to real space courtesy of two 17-year old Canadian high school students, Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammed!

In a homemade experiment they amazed everyone, including themselves, when they successfully sent a Lego man into near space (technically the stratosphere according to clutching a Canadian flag. “We didn’t really believe we could do it … until we did,” said Ho.

You can watch a video about it here, posted from The Toronto Star ‘s website:

It wasn’t a school project, just something fun they did in their spare time. But it’s also not as easy as it might sound. “It shows a tremendous degree of resourcefulness,” said Dr. Michael Reid, an astrophysics professor at the University of Toronto quoted in The Toron to Star . “For two 17-year olds to accomplish this on their own is pretty impressive,” he said.

Mathew and Asad tinkered with the idea for over a year and worked on it intensely for the last four months, including most Saturdays and often late into the night. They also had to make sure it didn’t interfere with their school work.

They drew up plans on their parents’ kitchen tables and figured out what they’d need after being inspired by MIT students who had done something similar (MIT is the Massachusetts Institute of Technoloogy — one of the top technology universities in the world).

Just some of what was required?

A weather helium balloon to go up which they were able to get online.

Helium gas to fill the balloon which they got at their local party supply store.

Cameras to record the trip. Mathew and Asad searched for used ones and ended up using four of them. They were able to download some software so that they would snap photos at 20-second intervals. They also reportedly had two video cameras.

They also needed a GPS unit to be able to track where their Lego guy was.

They then built a styrofoam container to house the cameras and GPS to protect the electronics from the cold and condensation (they added handwarmers so the electronics wouldn’t freeze) and to give it the best chance of surviving the landing.

They also needed a parachute and added that this was one of their biggest challenges. Neither of them knew how to use a sewing machine! But they bought some parachute fabric at their local fabric store and figured it out. They tested it by dropping the unit from the roof of one of their parents’ condo units.

They also needed to make calculations for wind and to make sure they could find it once it landed back on the ground. In addition to the possibility of it being carried far away, their area is also surrounded by a lot of lakes and they were hoping it wouldn’t land in one.

What else? Oh yes, a Lego man holding a Canadian flag! Check.

The whole project was done on a shoestring budget, costing around just $400.

Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammed’s video on YouTube:

Launch Day

They launched Lego man about two weeks ago … and watched as he was carried out of sight. When it was out of range, their GPS unit stopped signaling to their computer. There was nothing to do but wait and hope for the best. At this point they reportedly went home and made dumplings.

Meanwhile, Lego man travelled up 80,000 feet to near space. According to reports, that’s three times higher than most commercial airplanes ever fly.

Their cameras took incredible pictures and video of the clouds, the Earth below, the moon, and the black of space. As anticipated, the balloon expanded until it popped and Lego man began his descent back to Earth.

Lego man traveled up for about 65 minutes and down for about 32.  The GPS unit signalled their computer that it was back in range which meant it was landing … but finding Lego man and their equipment wasn’t so easy. They searched until they became cold and wet and it got dark, then they had to give up. They couldn’t go back until the following weekend to search again because of school. But this time they found it easily … and were stunned by the images they captured.

Amazingly, it’s not the first Lego figure in space. NASA reportedly has some Lego figures on the International Space Station and three more are en route to Jupiter on the Juno Orbiter, according to The Christian Science Monitor newspaper.

Nonetheless, it may have been one small step with an incredible view for Lego man … but it was one giant leap for two Canadian teenagers whose next big project is finishing highschool.

Global National TV’s story:

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