September 27th, 2016

Incredible journey – St Bede’s students blasts bear into space

Updated: 11:47 am, Jun 25, 2015

A PUPIL from St Bede’s School in Redditch and his brother had an out of this world experience when they launched a teddy bear near space earlier this month.

Dylan and Oscar Rees, with the help of their dad Oliver, sent the cuddly toy named ‘Uranus’ 80,000ft up as part of a six-month science project.

The average plane flies at 30,000ft to 45,000ft and the height the balloon reached meant it left the Earth and travelled into the stratosphere.

The 1kg ‘craft’ was launched from a field near Broadway using a helium filled weather balloon.

Inside its polystyrene casing was an old mobile phone so the package could be tracked using GPS and a small camera which filmed the whole voyage. Surrounding that were heat packs Oliver had bought from Poundland to ensure the camera’s mechanism did not freeze. A mirror was also strategically placed on the outside, along with the teddy, to show what was happening to the balloon.

Uranus, bought by 12-year-old Dylan during a school trip to the National Space Centre in Leicester, was strapped tightly to the polystyrene case, using cable ties, and was wearing a silver space suit lovingly made for him by the brothers out of tin foil.

The mission was ready to launch around Christmastime, but the conditions were not right. A website was used to estimate where the package would land. That takes into consideration weather conditions, wind speeds and direction, atmospheric pressure, the weight of the package and the size of balloon.

They were going to launch the project back in December but, the website predicted, back then it could have ended up in Poland.

The family bided their time until the conditions were right for it to land at a retrievable distance away.

Once the balloon was sufficiently filled and the craft was launched, Dylan, Oscar, Oliver and mum Sarah watched it sail up through the clouds and disappear, not knowing if they would ever see it again.

They went home to monitor it and, after initially being fine, the GPS was lost.

Then, just as they sat down to eat dinner, they heard a series of scheduled text alerts ‘pinged’ from the phone, detailing its whereabouts.

Sarah said: “That moment was unbelievable – the boys got up, left the dinner table and were dancing around the room.

“It was total jubilation, but then we had to find out where it was.”

Dylan added: “We thought we would never see the bear again when we lost contact during the balloon’s ascent.

“It was incredible on the Sunday evening when the phone suddenly made contact again.

“Using Google maps and the GPS co-ordinates, we established its exact location.

“We were all really excited.”

The package had landed in a farmer’s field in Kimbolton, Northamptonshire, 62 miles from its launch point and incredibly just five miles from where the website predicted it would end up.

The friendly farmer who owned the field was more than happy to let them retrieve it and two days later the family travelled to Kimbolton to get it back.

The camera had captured amazing footage of the entire journey which shows the curvature of the earth below and the dark sky of space above. The edited version can be seen on YouTube by searching for ‘Balloon Bear Near Space’.

The bear and his ‘ship’ had taken an hour and 20 minutes to reach 80,000ft where – as can be seen on the video – the balloon expanded in the thinner air and burst. The descent, aided by a handmade rip stop nylon parachute, took just 39 minutes before the package landed with a thud.

Sarah said: “We noticed just as it was coming into land, it narrowly missed some power cables which was very lucky.

“You don’t know exactly where the package is going to end up and, in order to do the project, we had had to alert the civil aviation authorities.”

The bear – now a space hero – is back home relaxing in Bromsgrove and Dylan’s geography teacher at St Bede’s Catholic Middle School, Miss Leatt, was so impressed she screened the film to the whole class.