There’s no question about it – the desire to explore is hard-wired into human DNA and ever since we evolved the ability to adapt to new environments, as a species we’ve been on a non-stop voyage.
But exploration isn’t always easy. Depending on where you want to go, you could be faced with technical, cultural, political and financial hurdles – some of which may prove to be impossible to overcome.
Just don’t tell that to Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad, two 17-year-olds from Toronto’s Agincourt Collegiate Institute. Ho and Muhammad just proved that with the right combination of drive and ingenuity, even the exploration of space is within reach and you don’t have to call up NASA (or perhaps more fittingly, the Russian Federal Space Agency) to make it happen.
Earlier this month, the two budding explorers sent a home-made, unmanned module up to the very edges of our atmosphere via a weather balloon and recorded their journey on 4 separate cameras. Actually, that’s not perfectly accurate. The module may have been unmanned, but it wasn’t without a passenger.
Muhammad and Ho decided that at least one space tourist deserved to be on-board for their historic first flight and the honour fell, quite fittingly, to a brave Lego man who the teens super-glued to their module. The poor plastic fellow likely received little in the way of a mission briefing, but he was equipped with a Canadian flag. We can only guess that this was sufficient compensation for the tiny astronaut since, as the photos and video clearly show, the smile never left his face.
According to an interview the pair gave to The Toronto Star, the whole endeavour took 4 months of planning and cost $400. It wasn’t an attempt to score extra marks in their science class: “They just thought it would be cool.”
The flight itself lasted 97 minutes and reached an approximate altitude of 24 km. While not quite the arena of space shuttles and satellites, that distance puts the module well into the official stratosphere which starts at 20 km from sea level, and it was more than high enough for the captured imagery to show the curvature of the Earth in the background.
In case you’re wondering, Muhammad has plans to become an aircraft technician while Ho is looking to become an entrepreneur. My advice to the young explorers: stay in touch. In a few more years you might be the most exciting thing to happen to space since Richard Branson and Burt Rutan put their collective talents together to create the space tourism outfit that is Virgin Galactic.