Journey to space
September 22nd, 2012
07:00 AM ET

14-year-old gets photos from space

A Lego man encased in a homemade weather balloon ended his journey to the edge of space on a New Hampshire driveway, bringing with him a trove of atmospheric data as well as stunning images of the curvature of the Earth.

The balloon, which landed on August 25, is the brainchild of a 14-year-old student named Jack Miron from Bedford, New Hampshire.

He didn’t know that NASA is using this technology for telescope research and studying the atmospheres of Mars, Venus and beyond.

His sights were set instead on an eighth-grade science project.

How Jack Did It

Jack was inspired when he looked out an airplane window when flying to Canada two years ago. “I’ve always wondered how airplanes could fly,” he said. “It was amazing looking at the world from above.”

The hazards and technical difficulties of traveling far into the atmosphere did not hold him back.

In a single week, young Jack built the weather balloon with the payload carrying his beloved Lego man equipped with weather measuring devices.

Jack - who also enjoys playing Dungeons & Dragons, fencing and reading - spent four weeks studying every challenge that might come his way.

In order to reach optimum height, Jack measured the balloon’s helium density in relation to its thickness to balance the payload’s weight.

“I never do anything simple,” he told CNN.

He also found that the upper atmosphere can drop to a deathly chill of minus-67 degrees Fahrenheit, so he got the idea of putting hand warmers next to the camera to keep the liquid in the batteries warm.

Launching into the stratosphere though was the least of Jack’s worries.

“The biggest problem I found was that the jet stream would carry my balloon straight into the Atlantic Ocean,” he said.

The science fair is not until November, but Jack’s research led him to launch August 25. In the summer, the jet stream weakens and rides up north, says David Robinson of Columbia University, who specializes in atmospheric sciences.

Only someone very clever who studied a lot could calculate the right conditions to send a balloon this high while avoiding a theft by the jet stream, Robinson said.

Also, to get through the troposphere, the lowest part of the Earth's atmosphere, the balloon had to survive the risk of extreme weather changes.

But the troposphere was no match for Jack’s weather balloon. It also passed the ozone layer to a dizzying height of 110,000 feet, into the stratosphere.

“It's not normal for national weather service balloons to get this high,” Robinson said.

When the balloon finally exploded from the barometric drop, a parachute ensured a successful mission.

To capture the images of space, Jack used a GoPro camera programmed to take snap shots every 10 seconds. That camera recorded more than 1,000 photographs during its ascent and descent, recording dizzying images of the sun’s rays coming over the curvature of the Earth.

Jack may be reaching heights of scientific research of which he wasn’t even aware.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, published a paper discussing the possibility of using high-altitude balloons for launching rockets to Mars, Venus and beyond. The balloons would be tethered from the launch site to ensure control in the turbulent troposphere. Then, once the balloon was in the stratosphere an attached rocket would be dropped into a six-second free fall, then fire its engines.

Danny Ball, the Site Manager of the Columbia Scientific Balloon facility supporting NASA, says the first rocket launch from a balloon is scheduled for 2014. NASA has conducted test balloon launches from 62 sites around the world, including Antarctica, where the troposphere is thinnest.

Scientists have confirmed that it is possible to launch a rocket from 110,000 feet. High-altitude balloons are also being used to simulate the low-density atmosphere of other planets, primarily Mars and Venus, and Saturn's largest moon, Titan, in anticipation of future missions to send humans to other worlds. Wallop's Flight Facility conducts about 10 to 20 balloon flights a year , according to Debbie Fairbrother, chief of NASA's Balloon Program. In Sweden last month, the facility launched a test flight of an 18.8 million-cubic-foot Super Pressure Balloon. It is pressurized for a flight of up to several weeks.

A stroke of good luck, and a few surprises

Armed with binoculars from the front seat of his mom’s minivan, Jack used an iPad and a laptop to track the his balloon’s location in real time. A scribbled sign on the dashboard proudly designated the minivan as “Mission Control.”

“What a launch! It was awesome! It took off like a banshee!” exclaimed a jubilant Jack, remembering that day. Jack knew the dangers of the turbulent troposphere and had attached a GPS device, a beeper and a note for rescue purposes in case a storm blew the balloon away. However, to Jack’s dismay the GPS “conked out” as the balloon neared the edge of space.

“It’s not normal for even a national weather service balloon to get this high,” said Mark Miller, a professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Rutgers University.

When the balloon finally descended to Earth after its two-hour journey, a New Hampshire resident discovered it sprawled across his driveway with all its gadgets.

“I called the police because I didn’t know what it was,” Sean Tolland said, laughing. A thrilled Jack rushed to the scene with his mother. “I was so excited and overjoyed to have it back - I thought it was gone. I was ecstatic,” he said.

What he had yet to discover was the vast panoramas captured by the small camera on board.

“I am going to do more research with drawings and writings," he said. "I love to learn."

Jesse Craft, a NASA Space Flight Design and Analysis Engineer, was impressed by Jack’s advanced innovations in design at such a young age. “He has a mind for detail recognizing potential problems and needs before the launch. He has the mind of an engineer!”

It’s important we inspire kids in the fields of science and math engineering. It’s the engine of the economy, Craft said.

“Humans are designed to be explorers, to be curious. If we’ve given up on that we’ve given up on a part of ourselves," he said.

soundoff (90 Responses)
  1. deemarie

    Where did he get all the stuff? Where did he get the helium? How do you make a weather balloon – outta what material? Must have some pretty neat parents. :o)

    January 10, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
  2. george

    Pure genius.And a lot of luck as well.Probably a combination of both.

    January 8, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  3. Laurie

    You are truly Awe~same Jack! I am so honored to share your Joy. Thank You.
    I can only imagine how it felt to be re-united with your creation, knowing at that moment you had the pictures to look forward to.
    You are Hope for our Planet Jack.
    In Love and Appreciation of You,
    Laurie

    January 8, 2013 at 11:02 am |
  4. Craig

    When I was fourteen, I was researching things on the ground, and I was only dreaming of space exploration. To see someone of Jack's age accomplish something so far ahead of everyone his age is awesome! This is an inspiration to children everywhere!

    October 2, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  5. Hollywood

    Way to go Jack! Your creativity and execution of events has reinstilled my confidence in the brilliance of young minds. Keep on flying, Jack!

    September 27, 2012 at 4:14 am |
  6. Julie

    Thanks for being a great role model for the young. I'm sure you learned a lot about how involved a project like this is. I think the CNN post really captures all the steps you needed to take and consider, which speaks to your success and high reach. Congratulations :)

    September 24, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  7. Tinfoil hat

    Sort of like this? Jan 2012

    http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/25/matthew-ho-asad-muhammad-lego-space-video_n_1231533.html

    September 23, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  8. Richard

    Helium supplies are running precipitously low and it shouldn't be wasted on frivolity, though this application is arguably better than party balloons.

    September 23, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Eyeball73

      Are you serious? Yeah, earths air is composed of only 0.00052% by volume, but c'mon. This is an EXCELLENT use of this gas. This will be one of the next generations innovator. Leave it be.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  9. Winfrey

    Now THAT was a great article. Loved it Jack!!! Congratulations. Wow mom, I know you're proud!!!

    September 23, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  10. Ron

    This is an amazing feat for anyone at any age, especially designing the mission route of the balloon to essentially go straight up and straight down from 110,000 ft. or 20.8 miles in the atmosphere. Just an amazing accomplishment. Taking a calculated risk is what the human race is all about. It is why we are where we are in space travel. We are explorers by nature. Despite the "edge of space" being determined in 2009 to be just over 73 miles above the surface of the earth, to accomplish this mission at 14 is awe inspiring. Jack, you have a very bright future in engineering. To someone who tells you otherwise, they don't know Jack!

    September 23, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  11. Stalphyr

    JACK BIG WTG!!!!!!!
    I hope you Always Keep your Dreams and Ideas going. young people like yourself with make this world and other worlds a better place. May Your Dreams ALWAYS Carry you through the tough times and inspire you more and to better things!!! as far as the nay Sayers, Young people like this will help with the future of all. You never know what his next project maybe. I think No matter how small or large the project is or success or not that all children's achievements should be on the news. So they can inspire there Generations and the next to GREATER things, that our and past generations have failed to succeed. So No matter if it has been done before or not Keep the dreams going to all future and current dreamers out there!!! JACK WELL DONE INDEED!!!!! The future is yours and Never let go of that young man!!!!!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  12. Kaye M. Porter

    Congratulations, Jack Miron, I applaud you and wish you great success professionally. Proud of you.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  13. jqent

    Admirable! This kid reminds me of Robert Heinlein's young hero in "Have Space Suit– Will Travel." Ingenuity, clear thinking, research and putting things together to cover all eventualities... way to go, Indeed, Jack!
    And, to the sourpusses and naysayers on this board... what were YOU doing at 14? Sneaking smokes and skipping school?

    September 23, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  14. kath

    PS Guess I was so interested in reading about it I completely missed the shots posted. Beautiful stuff!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  15. kath

    This is a brilliant feat! 14? You have much to be proud of. The world will be seeing (hey! How about showing those pictures after you win the science fair?!) many more of your ideas in the coming years:) Keep up the good work!

    September 23, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Jack Miron

      Thanks for your comments and feedback. It was so much fun to do. The pictures and project video are posted on youtube. Here are the links:
      Project Summary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1AXdqC7IlM
      Full FLight Photos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69h4nG-7koI
      Full Project Details: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WF7HVnaRZBU

      September 24, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  16. porter from OGJ

    Using hand warmers is standard, not his original idea. Please.... Lighten up a little

    September 23, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  17. Kev J Idaho

    110,000 feet IS NOT "SPACE" or even the edge of space.

    Talk about indulging the kid. Did he get a trophy, too?

    September 23, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  18. Jumpin YD Yang

    Aren't most 14 year olds in 9th grade?

    September 23, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  19. lola

    Geeze! Wow! Look at picture #3. Way to go Jack. This Jack knows thyself....and more!!!

    September 23, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  20. Clel Perez

    I am interested in seeing the photos. If it is possible please direct me to a site if any that hosts those photos please. And Jack, I give you ccomplete validation to your ingeneous skillsets.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • Jack Miron

      Thanks for your comments and feedback. It was so much fun to do. The pictures and project video are posted on youtube. Here are the links you asked for:
      Project Summary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1AXdqC7IlM
      Full Flight Photos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69h4nG-7koI
      Full Project Details: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WF7HVnaRZBU

      September 24, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  21. lindaluttrell

    Quite a feat, Jack! You're living proof that if you can dream it; you can DO it!

    September 23, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  22. Kyle

    Thanks for the inspiration Jack. My little boy and I now plan to try to do the same :)

    September 23, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  23. T-duff

    A future Apple Engineer, claiming something amazing that has been done before in other countries.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • lola

      jealous much?

      September 23, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • MLamb

      @T-Duff: Apparently you feel the need to exercise your Alpha-Male inferiority muscles by mocking the achievements of very talented youth on the internet. I wonder; what accomplishments were you achieving at his age? It really isn't wise to mock a kid like this–aside from looking like a troll–odds are you will end up working for a kid just like this someday.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  24. Lew

    Pretty neat indeed.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  25. WoodMaven

    This goes to show you that KISS (keep it simple stupid) applies, here we have a 14 year old kid with minimal budget of maybe $300.00, if that, that manages to do what NASA spends several million dollars to achieve. Way to go Jack!

    September 23, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  26. Scott

    Congrats on your accomplishment ! Like many here, I think you have a great future ahead of you. For the naysayers, yeah, maybe it has been done before. What you're missing is, people like him made all the stuff you take for granted every day work in the first place. Try a day or two with no smartphone, TV, computer, car .......

    September 23, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  27. JWoody907

    Not to belittle the achievement of this kid launching the balloon, and I applaud his scientific interests but...

    Wasn't this done like 2-3 months ago complete with youtube video? It was talked about on CNN, Wired, PopSci, etc.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:49 am |
    • ed

      he did this for an eigth grade science project... not to be the first to do it.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  28. t-bird

    It must be nice to be able to afford to risk a $200+ camera & a GPS to do an experiment that had already been done before (his research should have shown him that). I wonder how many kids from the other side of town that money could have fed?

    September 23, 2012 at 6:44 am |
    • Roger

      Not his responsibility to feed the masses. Tell congress to stop wasting money at other countries, spend it here and shore up SS and Medicare

      September 23, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • Dano

      t-bird, sell your computer and go feed the masses.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • Triple A

      Tell the other masses to get off their duff and contribute something to society.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Darren

      The boys interest is to do science projects. Tbirds interest is to sit behind his computer and tell people what
      their interests should be! Tbird needs to get a life and not be so depressed. Who knows maybe do a science
      project on the effects of paxil addiction!

      September 23, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  29. Geoff

    Big deal. Somebody's kid hit a home run in a little leage game. That's big stuff! Now go find a suitable habitat for penguins.

    September 23, 2012 at 5:50 am |
    • RickInNY

      Awwww, poor Geoffy. Sour grapes dude? Why don't you find the suitable habitat for penguins? Hell, why don't you get your fat a s s out from behind your PC and exercize, or work?

      September 23, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  30. Jowlk

    Also, this has been done many times over the past couple years with even CNN news stories done on them.

    September 23, 2012 at 3:51 am |
  31. ShaJab

    Congratulations on your accomplishment

    September 23, 2012 at 3:49 am |
  32. Jowlk

    Annoying, if its a celebrity we get a whole slideshow of them walking down the street, for this we get one boring picture even though supposedly 2,000+ pics were taken,

    September 23, 2012 at 3:49 am |
    • P Ness

      I agree. How about one close up picture of the darn device?!

      September 23, 2012 at 9:44 am |
      • Jack Miron

        I posted the links to the youtube video outlining the project and all the photos...details are on the blog.

        September 24, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  33. sandhya

    Congratulations! My 5 year son has a question. Did the leg man come back :)

    September 23, 2012 at 3:12 am |
    • Callista

      Yup, he came back with the payload!

      September 23, 2012 at 4:32 am |
  34. Fred L. May SR.

    Good for you Jack Miron. In my youth things you have done were only a dream. I remember Buck Rogers storey's that were scuffed at. People were looked at like they were out of theirs minds if they even suggested anything like this story. Keep looking to space and the future, Good luck on your next project. An 87 year dreamer.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:38 am |
  35. Dog man

    We must have been trained to enjoy only bad news or something. I don't care if this has been done before. The more kids do it the better. This restores a little bit of my faith in the current generation of teenagers.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  36. hollando

    Hello NASA!
    There's someone at your door, make that a kid 14 years old. First, train him, pay his full college and then employ him. His mind is worth the cost and you'll be happy having him on board.

    September 22, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  37. Galaxy Prime

    The bozos leaving negative comments about this story are jealous because they have dumb kids or dumb grandkids who bring home D's and F's on their report cards. Someday in the future, this young man may be an engineer or scientist figuring out how to set up colonies on Mars while the negative commenters' unemployed adult kids will be digging in garbage cans looking for recyclables.

    September 22, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Jennifer

      RIGHT ON, Galaxy Prime!!!!!!!!! With the majority of teens only interested in rotting their minds on video games and wasted diversions this intellient, creative young man is doing brilliant things! What an encouragement to all of mankind and certainly to other teens to get off their duffs and get busy!!! GREAT JOB and very inspiring, Jack!!! Reach for the stars!!!!!!

      September 23, 2012 at 7:19 am |
  38. GPS Girl

    Commercial GPS units are only good to 60,000 ft.

    September 22, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Trajan

      STFU and congratulate the kid, sheesh!

      September 22, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
    • clevelandgardenclub

      The point of having a GPS is to find where it lands on the earth's surface, not to measure elevation.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:53 am |
  39. Brett

    Bravo Young Man, keep reaching for the stars. The world is your Oyster limited only by Your imagination.

    September 22, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  40. kevin

    Congratulations young man!
    I am the proud father of a young man that was constantly wondering "what if" and trying new ideas (some great, some not so but always fun!) and I can tell you that he is now graduating with a Masters around Christmas and set to go on to his Doctorate. You can do it, just believe in yourself and don't let ANYONE tell you that you can't!

    September 22, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  41. Onray

    Nerd Alert! System has launched!

    September 22, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  42. Tom

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! It's been done before....so not news!

    September 22, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • JanetMermaid

      So what? This kid hasn't done something like this before. Kudos to the teen. A pox on you for being nothing but a Debbie Downer.

      September 22, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
      • JanetMermaid

        And just to add... I'll bet you'll be bussing tables at the banquet when this 14 year old wins the Nobel prize in science.

        September 22, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
      • Jennifer

        Your response to someone unimpressed (about a teenager doing something that many many people including other 8th graders) have done before(and those balloons aint cheap)... is to wish death and disease on them... then to insult them more.....

        You need to seek mental help.....

        September 22, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
      • RickInNY

        @Jennifer – You're telling someone else to seek help?? Funny, since your posts are playing both sides of the fence :P

        September 23, 2012 at 10:32 am |
      • Jennifer

        @Rick There is a difference in pointing out the obvious and wishing disease onto some stranger...

        September 27, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  43. ALKP

    Great job kid! way to go kid! no matter if it has been done before by older or younger, I think the this achievement is superb for you and many of us that have never done this. Congratulations and keep up the good work. Don't let the low iq comments posted here tell you different. Those are people that have never done anything great in their life.

    September 22, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  44. Harrystick

    I will try and send a jar of jelly babies high enough into the atmosphere, so when it rains my DNA will rain upon the infidels!

    September 22, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  45. Steve

    Uh....hasn't this already been done? Must be a slow news day.

    September 22, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Randall "texrat" Arnold

      Really? that's the sort of pointless thing you felt led to comment?

      September 22, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Ricky

      Yes...it probably has been done. But not by this kid and so what. It was a fantastic job the way he went through the whole process. It was definitly newsworthy...and not everything has to be death, violence and mayhem in the news. A little good news never hurts.

      September 22, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  46. Dave

    Nice – but really . . . My son (8th grade) did this a year ago with his scout troup. This isn't exactly new/news. Same EXACT process – Weather baloon, GoPro etc. I guess this dude just has better publicity! They also used a GPS transmitter to locate the baloon once back down to earth.

    September 22, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Randall "texrat" Arnold

      Congratulations to your son, but that doesn't take away from Jack's accomplishment.

      September 22, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Tom

      Did your scout troop's balloon go as high as Jack's, over 110,000 ft.?

      September 22, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
      • larper2

        Some UK students sent one to 118,000 feet. Google this info and there are a lot of teens being copy cats. He just did what other people did.

        September 22, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Ricky

      This was Jack's accomplishment...and a fantastic one. Great for your kid...but please don't detract from this kids accomplishment. It was fantastic. So was the accomplishment by yours. We need more kids like these.

      September 22, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • Michael

      Hey Dave,

      Let's do the math here...

      Your son PLUS an entire scout troop (not troup) = balloon experiment

      Jack Miron by himself = balloon experiment

      Ladies and Gentlemen we have a winner...

      Jack Miron! Good Job Kid!

      September 24, 2012 at 1:56 am |
  47. johnharry

    mom's taxi is now mission control ! good job

    September 22, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  48. jarrah

    Umm.. this same story happened out of Canada a few months back. Complete with lego man and everything, I guess the young guy watches more news than the cnn editors lol

    September 22, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Nerissa

      Correct! This young man got the idea from an airplane window–curious minds often stumble onto the same course. But surely this boy who did so much research must have come across the Canadian high schoolers' story–perhaps Lego man was his homage. Either way, this boy is much younger and his balloon went much higher.

      September 22, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  49. miketofdal

    Congratulations on your accomplishment, Jack! Keep asking questions, learning everything you can about the world around you. It's a unique and fascinating one...full of wonders and opportunities. Best of luck in whatever life brings to you!

    September 22, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  50. Jay

    DING DING DING!! Hello NASA? Give this kid a job. Wait, first put him through college and then give him a job.

    September 22, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Laurie

      I thought the same thing! Love your post Jay!
      Laurie

      January 8, 2013 at 10:57 am |
  51. Davidcavissi

    Well done, Mr. Miron. Whatever the path you end up on, may you have good luck and smooth sailing.

    September 22, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  52. jakibro

    Think of how far humanity would be if people around the world were more like Jack instead of being consumed by religious hatred. Way to go Jack! Congratulations.

    September 22, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Tom

      Think of how far humanity would be if posters could simply stick to the subject at hand instead of using it as a platform to expound their world view to people who largely don't care to hear it.

      September 22, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
      • Clint

        I guess the truth hurts. Eventually, religious nuts will be the minority, and humanity will finally be awake.

        September 23, 2012 at 12:42 pm |

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