Face odyssey: The selfie goes into space

Enterprising Yorkshire students will send pretty much anything you want to space – and snap it there

Jamie Merrill
Sunday 30 November 2014 01:00 GMT

You might expect this amazing image of the curvature of the Earth and the thin blue line of atmosphere to have been shot by a £1bn satellite or an astronaut on the International Space Station.

In fact they were captured by two former PhD students from Sheffield, using little more than a digital camera, some off-cuts of foam and a giant helium balloon sent more than 23 miles up into near space.

The hills and valleys of Yorkshire might be better known for dormant collieries and tearooms but, since their first launch in 2011, Alex Baker and Chris Rose have been sending up "payloads" to the edge of space, including a diamond ring, numerous promotional gimmicks, toy cars and newspaper front pages. They have also sent dozens of family photographs in what they call the "ultimate space selfie". Last week the pair, who call the Sheffield office of their firm Sent Into Space "Cape Kebaberal" in tribute to Nasa's spaceport and their favourite student food, sent up their 100th balloon.

Mr Rose said: "We don't actually have a background in space, but after a few too many ales in the student union we had the idea it would be fun to put a camera on a weather balloon and track it."

British space exploration is enjoying a golden age, with many of the engineers working on the Rosetta comet probe having backgrounds at UK firms and universities. Sent Into Space takes more direct inspiration from early astronauts and Felix Baumgartner's famous space jump for Red Bull.

"Our PhD supervisors would say we spent more time on this project than our final projects," said Mr Baker. "But we're so excited about what we are doing. We've dreamt of being astronauts since we saw footage of Joseph Kittinger jumping from a balloon in the 1960s, becoming the first person to see the curvature of the Earth."

Since their first launch in 2011 the two engineers have developed a GPS tracking system to collect their payloads after they land and now charge businesses up to £4,000 to send packages to space and back. On Friday, for example, they sent up a mobile-phone case as a stunt for a phone company. They have even had talks with a funeral home about sending ashes into space.

They now offer a DIY kit for customers to launch their own space balloons for less than £500. They even provide all the necessary paperwork to apply for the correct permission to launch from the Civil Aviation Authority.

The tricky part is collecting the payload, which comes down after about three hours. The pair use wind charts and meteorological data to predict the landing. So far, they have only lost one item.

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