Our place from space

Big dreams for Hamiltonian twins

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 05:00 28/04/2012
Space ship
Mark Taylor/ FAIRFAX NZ

HIGH AMBITION: Josh and Zac Lyon sent a balloon into space.

From the edge of space

Weather balloon photos
Zac and Josh Lyon have captured stunning images of New Zealand and the curvature of Earth after tethering a camera to a weather balloon.
Weather balloon photos
Zac and Josh Lyon have captured stunning images of New Zealand and the curvature of Earth after tethering a camera to a weather balloon. Getting the balloon ready.
Weather balloon photos
Zac and Josh Lyon have captured stunning images of New Zealand and the curvature of Earth after tethering a camera to a weather balloon.

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Space might be the final frontier for Kirk, Spock and Bones in the 70's TV series Star Trek, but it's just the first step for Hamilton's Lyon twins.

Zac and Josh Lyon, 20, launched a balloon with two cameras to the edge of space and have spectacular pictures to prove it.

"We were inspired by a father and son team from the USA who had done the same with an iPhone," said Zac Lyon.

The Waikato University earth science students said their balloon reached 31,882m before bursting and falling back to earth.

Another New Zealand team had sent a balloon to around 15,000m and the Lyons wanted to go one better: "That was our main motivation, to do something that no-one in New Zealand had done."

They got a basic design from America but Mr Lyon said they did a number of things their own way.

"Quite a bit of it was just making it at home. There was a lot of guess work."

They imported a balloon, parachute and pressure sensor, and used two old cameras to take pictures and video footage.

A polystyrene chilly bin housed the electronics. Possum fur socks and heat packs prevented the equipment from freezing in the -34 degree temperature.

"A wool company in the Manawatu sent us a possum fur cutting and Josh used his sewing skills and stitched up socks for the cameras."

A plague of problems hit the brothers as launch time approached but they were determined to see it through.

"The night before, the electronics decided to pack it in and [at the launch] our helium gas regulator stopped working so Josh grabbed a hose and jammed it down the helium tank and his fingers froze to the hose."

The brothers tracked the balloon via an on-board GPS device but not everything went as smoothly as planned.

"We lost track for about an hour of the flight and it was getting a bit tense."

Air traffic control called the twins after a pilot reported seeing the balloon from his cockpit, they said.

"We did get a call saying that our balloon was maybe in the collision path of a plane. That was a bit dodgy."

The pair retrieved their balloon from a farm at the foot of the Kaimai Ranges. "It was pretty banged up but we got some really good photos."

The Year Three students worked on the project for more than a year and completed it on a minimal budget.

"We wanted to send it up to space and do it on a budget that students could do."

They used money earned from summer jobs to fund the project and were given a GPS tracker and cheap gas.

"It's good that we got summer work and good that there's two of us because we split the cost but it wouldn't have been possible without sponsorship from TrackIt and Supergas Hamilton," said Josh Lyon.

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Zac and Josh said the balloon project was purely for fun. They were back in class just hours after their stunning achievement.

They are already conjuring up new ideas. "The thing that me and Josh live by is that we're just two ordinary guys doing things that are not so ordinary - extraordinary even."

Elton Smallman is a Wintec journalism student.

- Waikato Times

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