Two amateur astronomers with little more than a weather balloon and a dream launched a model "Star Wars" X-wing vehicle into near space — over 20 miles above the Earths' surface — and captured the flight on video.
The high-altitude flight of the X-wing (a ubiquitous spaceship design from the "Star Wars" universe) was chronicled in a video produced by amateur near-space photographers, and posted to YouTube last Thursday (April 23). In the video, which is scored with the iconic "Star Wars" theme song, the toy ship can be seen dangling high enough above the planet's atmosphere for the darkness of space to be seen, even though the sun is also visible.
The video is apparently an awesomely shameless attempt by the creators to get tickets to the premier of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," which opens this December. ["Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens" in Photos]
The video was produced by Matt Kingsnorth (@MattKingsnorth) and Phil St. Pier (@TurboBungle), who photographed the Earth from high altitudes as part of something called Project Helium Tears (@ProjectHeT). The project's Twitter description reads, "Photographing the Earth from the edge of space. For Essex, for Earth, for all mankind."
"A short time ago, a long, long way up…" reads text that opens the video of the dangling X-wing. Later, the video features text that reads: "Hey JJ Abrams! Can we have 2 tickets to the VIP premier of The Force Awakens? Ordinarily the answer would be no… So we thought we'd try something extraordinary. We know you like practical effects and shooting in real locations. And we really love that there are X-wings in the new film so…"
Near the end of the video is a plea for viewers to tweet the hashtag #HeyJJ and ask the new movie's director, J.J. Abrams, if the video's creators can attend the movie's premier.
According to the BBC, whose representative spoke with Kingsnorth, the weather balloon carrying the X-wing reached a height of around 118,000 feet (36,190 meters), which is just over 22 miles (35 kilometers). The duo also attached a camera to the setup to capture the flight, as well as a GPS device so the pair could always see where it was. The entire mission took about six months to complete and cost about $1,840 (1,200 British pounds).
Kingsnorth and St. Pier are not the first amateur space flight enthusiasts to launch a toy into near space. YouTube user Steve Schnier posted a video of the USS Enterprise on a similar weather balloon launch, and reports that the toy ship reached roughly the same altitude as the X-wing. In 2012, two 17-year-old high school students, Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad, launched a Lego minifigure to a height of nearly 80,000 feet (24,384 m) using a weather balloon.
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Calla Cofield joined Space.com's crew in October 2014. She enjoys writing about black holes, exploding stars, ripples in space-time, science in comic books, and all the mysteries of the cosmos. Prior to joining Space.com Calla worked as a freelance writer, with her work appearing in APS News, Symmetry magazine, Scientific American, Nature News, Physics World, and others. From 2010 to 2014 she was a producer for The Physics Central Podcast. Previously, Calla worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (hands down the best office building ever) and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California. Calla studied physics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and is originally from Sandy, Utah. In 2018, Calla left Space.com to join NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory media team where she oversees astronomy, physics, exoplanets and the Cold Atom Lab mission. She has been underground at three of the largest particle accelerators in the world and would really like to know what the heck dark matter is. Contact Calla via: E-Mail – Twitter