The lengths I go to, to recover my payload : Send someone else up the tree

I covered Hartley’s September launch in International launches but now I’m covering his subsequent efforts to recover his payload. It seems that the solution to tree landings is to send someone else up the tree. Genius!

In my last article, I talked about how I sent a weather balloon and video camera into space, but needed help finding the footage. I posted the article to Hacker News and promptly fell asleep, exhausted after a long day of adventure.

When I woke up, my inbox was full of comments from people all over the world showing support and offering to help. Apparently, the post made it to the #3 spot on the front page and drew almost 10,000 views to the article.

One email was from a HN’er who goes by wavewash, or Mo in real life. He told me his company was offering to sponsor the search for the missing footage, using a remote control airplane with a camera to fly over the forested area and conduct an aerial search.

He and I went back and forth and, two weeks later (waiting out hurricane Sandy) we were on the road together with his girlfriend, driving up to Maine to continue the search.

The Search, Take 2

I brought along my trusty Garmin 60CSx as well as the new SPOT Personal Tracker I had just purchased, in preparation for a second balloon launch. :)

We used the second map I had made as our reference area. The map combined four different checkin points from the tracking device in the balloon’s capsule, as well as my own guesstimates of where it might have drifted due to the wind.

Crash site map #2

Unfortunately, the remote control airplane wasn’t quite ready for the trip, but we set out into the woods again, hoping that the lack of foliage would make it easier to search the tree canopies.

It took us about 5 minutes to get to the location on my map, and then we started to spread out.

Within about 90 seconds, I spotted a giant white flap of latex blowing in the wind, about 2/3rds of the way up a tall pine tree. I actually wasn’t sure if it was the balloon at first, or whether it was some sort of giant gross mushroom thing, but then I spotted the capsule and the lens of the camera dangling below.

I couldn’t believe it — I had finally found it!

Before I could even start planning how we’d get it down — it was about 40ft off the ground — Mo came crashing through the forest and started scampering up the tree to retrieve the capsule.

It took a minute or two for him to dislodge the parachute and what remained of the weather balloon and then drop it back to us on the ground.

Thanks to the Community

As we were walking back to the car, a homeowner came out to his porch and asked if that was the balloon he had kept hearing about. He said several groups had come by asking if he’d seen anything, and he was really excited that we recovered it.

It was awesome to know that the community had gotten so involved.

Huge shout out to Mo and his girlfriend for making the three hour trek up to Maine and back, and thanks to everyone in the Bowdoin and Brunswick communities that organized search parties or told their friends, and everyone on the internet who offered to help in some way. You all kept me dedicated to keep searching.

The Footage

The GoPro was actually pretty tricky to pry open. I’m guessing the waterproof seal tightened in the vacuum of the upper atmosphere. Eventually we got the SD card out and found a suitable laptop to play the video on (thanks Toph!)

While the balloon was in the air for over 4 hours from take off till landing, the camera was only able to recorded about 2 and a half hours before the battery died.

Unfortunately, this meant that it didn’t capture its highest moments in space or its crash landing into Brunswick.



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