Santa goes to space
Santa is being boosted to the edge of space this Christmas by children from Torbay School.
A toy Santa and his sleigh, along with cameras to capture the ride, will be rising above Waikato farmland under a helium filled weather balloon on Monday morning and tracked by pupils.
The 25 kilometre trip through the atmosphere will take several hours for Santa to reach the point where the Earth ends and space begins, though he'll need to be rugged up warm for the minus 70 degree temperatures.
On board cameras will take high resolution photos and a video camera will be streaming live to the youngsters on the ground.
The sky overhead will be black and the curve of the Earth and thin blue line of the atmosphere clear to see.
The balloon will pop and Santa starts a leisurely three-hour float down hanging beneath parachutes.
The Torbay kids involved with Santa's epic flight are from a special ICT and computing class at the school.
Teacher Logan Greeves hoped to grab their imaginations with a special project so got in touch with the KiwiSpace Foundation run by space enthusiast and Coatesville resident Mark Mackay.
Mr Mackay, a former Orcon founder, was among a group that successfully sent a weather balloon to the edge of space from the Waikato two years ago.
The youngsters, aged 5 to 11, thought sending Santa up with the balloon seemed like a good idea, Mr Greeves says.
During the past couple of months the group has been busy on the project, including working out the best place to let the weather balloon go.
The balloon will be carried on the winds in the upper atmosphere, so setting off from the narrow Auckland isthmus would likely see Santa drop in the sea.
Set among the broad Waikato paddocks, Huntly was a better prospect, the kids decided.
Providing the weather is OK, the children, parents, teachers and Mr Mackay will start their journey south at 4am Monday for a 7am release. Students staying behind will be able to see the action from their classroom as a video camera, included in the pay load under the balloon, will stream images as the balloon heads skyward.
The Waikato group will also watch on tablets and laptop computers.
Then they'll follow the path the balloon takes in cars using a satellite tracking system, ready to retrieve Santa and his cameras when he finally returns to earth. The release is weather dependent with a narrow window of about 10 days before the end of school term. The tight deadline has caused some headaches.
The strong but very light payload container, along with other parts, are made by aerospace specialists Lockheed Martin in the United States. Mr Greeves feared they wouldn't get here in time by courier so set off on an exhausting round trip to the United States last weekend to pick them up.
"I didn't even leave the airport there," he says.
"I was handed the equipment and then waited nine hours for the return flight home."
When Mr Greeves' friend Mike Waldron heard about the project he managed to convince his bosses at Barfoot & Thompson to cover expenses.
With the helium alone worth $1500, their venture into aerospace education hasn't been cheap.
North Harbour News