Final Project Video Finished

Watch as six grade school girls’ (from Bowling Green, Kentucky) seemingly impossible, but absolutely achievable plan to launch a payload of cameras into the stratosphere to take measurements, photographs and video of the curvature of the earth and black of space becomes a reality. The most exciting part is around 4:40 when the weather balloon bursts at almost 120,000 feet (22.3 miles) above the surface of the earth and the payload begins to plummet back towards earth. They hope that they will be an inspiration to other young ladies and help encourage more of them to explore science, math, engineering and the art of making things with technology. Go to to learn more.

The final video for the project has been completed. I think it turned out pretty amazing. If anyone has any suggestions please leave them as comments on the blog page or the Vimeo page.

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On September 5th we had a very interesting phone interview with Suzie Boss from Edutopia is a website published by The George Lucas Educational Foundation and they are dedicated to transforming the learning process by helping educators implement six core learning strategies.

It turns out our project embodied several of these strategies without our realizing it. Our project used Project-based learning, Integrated Studies and Technology Integration being the most prominent of the six though we did touch on some facets of others.

Suzie’s article covering the project can be found here:

This was the second interview of the project and it was a lot of fun answering the questions and made for really good practice for the upcoming presentation to all the students at Cumberland Trace Elementary school.


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Posters and Prints Ready

We finally have the prints and posters ready to share digitally. Because we only had 1920 x 1080 pixels to work with on our prints, we had to take a collage approach for the 20″ x 30″ and 24″ x 36″ sizes. To tie it all together, we used the new NASA Blue Marble shot as the background for the posters and included prints from our mission on top. We think they came out really great!

Depending on the poster size and style there are between 8 and 12 shots from the mission on the posters. All posters and prints are autographed. We are giving you links to 3 different kinds of posters and 3 sizes of prints (2 different pictures). The team selected the poster with the film strips as our favorite. We ordered samples of all print sizes this week and they should be in this coming week or the following at the latest.

Below is the team’s favorite poster.

There is also this version.

And this version

Here is the 5″ x 7″ Version A

And 5″ x 7″ version B

Below is a link to all sizes and versions of the prints and posters. You can download them from this photo set by clicking on the image you like and then “Actions” directly above the picture on the top left, then drop down to “View All Sizes” – pick “original” size to download the highest resolution.

We really hope you like these.

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Results & Time Lapse of Launch

The time lapse below covers the launch of the Terra Incognita weather balloon compressing a 2 hour and 15 minute time frame to just over 3 minutes. We added some footage from 120,000 feet (just seconds before the balloon burst) to the front of the time lapse just so you can see what it looked like. We will be making another video over the course of the next few weeks covering the entire project that will have more aerial footage.

We are very pleased to share the results of our first mission to the stratosphere with these amazing pictures captured on our journey to the edge of space and back. The images below start with the release of the balloon all the way to landing in the trees. Our flight began just outside Bowling Green, Kentucky (11:45 A.M.) and touched down in the woods behind Amazing Grace Community Church in Lafayette, Tennessee (2:02 P.M.) over an hour away. The flight lasted about 2:17 minutes – about 1:17 up and 1:00 down. We arrived on site around 2:50 P.M. and had the payload in our possession by 3:50 PM. Click on the thumbnail images below to load each image individually.

To download the entire set as one zip file please click here.

The zip file is 34 MB so it might take a few minutes to download depending on the speed of your internet connection. The pictures print out very nicely at 8 1/2″ x 11″ or smaller. I recommend printing them to fit the page and then trimming off the white margins on the top and bottom. I also recommend using glossy photo paper for the best results.

To see a slide show of the best in flight pictures go here:

If you want to see a photo set of all the pictures from the entire project go here:

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WE DID IT!! Pictures from the edge of space.

Well, we took a risk and launched today even though the weather pattern was pushing us further south and east than we wanted. The risk was that it would end up in a forested area in a tree . . . . and it did. But somehow we found it, without cell signal to power our GPS even. What an AMAZING journey and we owe a special thanks to all our backers at for helping make this dream come true – words can’t express how we all feel right now.

The curvature of the earth in the shot below is exaggerated somewhat due to the wide angle of the lens. We will try and fix that (but not all of it) after we research how to correct lens distortion in Photoshop.

Below is the predicted flight path. We launched 2 hours late due to the lengthy fill time of the balloon and the winds were much stronger because of the delay pushing us off the original prediction. You should plan 2 hours to fill it if you ever try and do this yourself. We used for the model. Click the image below to enlarge it and then click the back arrow to come back to this page.

Here is a shot of us filling the balloon. It reached almost 120,000 feet before bursting and falling back to earth. Had a lot of help from the parents of Anna’s friends. Mini’s dad help me a bunch with the balloon and spent the day with us on the chase. Lexi’s grand father helped us get the remaining helium we needed without which we could not have launched.

We launched at 11:45 central time. The balloon was moving too fast for the SPOT meter to get a lock to send a GPS location the entire flight. We hadn’t anticipated hat. It was a very helpless feeling but we remained confident and were rewarded with a location beacon at 2:02 P.M. within 13 minutes of our total flight time of 2:30. The bad news was, as we learned, it was farther away and in the woods. We headed out and reached the location at about 2:50 P.M.

Because of the geography and cell tower proximity, starting about 30 minutes from the landing site, we had no cell coverage. So all we had was a rough area to work from behind a church in the woods. We went about 100 yards into the woods and started searching and Mini spotted the parachute about 100 yards from that location. What luck (for the location) and keen eyesight.

It appeared to be about 20-30 feet in the air from where we stood. But after three of us hacked our way further though the woods, it turned out to be on a ridge opposite our ridge and within hand reach. We were able to simply grab it and pull it down enough to cut it loose from the parachute making lots of young ladies and their families very happy. We think we were very lucky to find it today.

The team was holding the payload by 3:50 that afternoon. Upon inspecting the payload everything appeared to be just fine and we headed home.

Everything went perfect with this flight except one thing, the high res digital camera didn’t take pictures. It sounded like it was taking pictures and you can even hear it in the video every 5.5 seconds. But, it had no SD card in it. So the pictures we have are still shots pulled from the HD footage. These are fine for 8×10 photos and even up to 16×20 but might not reproduce well above that. I (David) take full credit for the mistake, in my prep I cleaned the SD cards of all the cameras and forgot to put the last one back in. I check the camera and it fired just fine when the shutter was pressed . . . . no indication of the lack of SD card. 🙁

Here are a couple more shots from about 118,000 – 120,000 feet. I’ve pulled almost 100 shots tonight but have only had time to color correct a few. Click the image below to enlarge it and then click the back arrow to come back to this page.

I’ll be producing a video of the entire project. I’ll post here once it is complete.


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Launch Tomorrow – 7-28-2012

It looks as though all things are in order and we are good to go for launch tomorrow. We have helium and our payload is ready. Tracking has been quadruple checked. Mother nature is appears to be cooperating. Low winds. We are shooting for a 9:30-10:00 launch central time.

The flight path is the only thing that could be a problem. If the predicted flight path based on weather conditions in the morning has us flying too far north or east we will have to wait for a different day. But as of this moment we are a green light for launch. I’ll update in the morning.

Below is the predicted flight path as of tonight at about 10:30 PM. Ideally we would like to see it land south and west of Bowling Green. This flight path is about a 5-6 out of 10 on the desirability scale. Right click on the and “View Image” for a larger look. As you can see we are landing East of Bowling Green and that is in a more forested section of Kentucky (I don’t really want to be climbing trees if I can help it). West is flat farm lands and where we want to land. Hopefully tomorrow we will see a more favorable predicted flight path based on the winds at the time.

Ad Astra!

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Politics, Economics & Launch

Today we are posting to bring you all up to speed on where we are on the project. We have had a bit of a delay due to a national shortage of helium. One would think that something so abundant in nature would be relatively easy to obtain. Not so!  And it’s a bit of a long story that took us down the road of some basic economic principles and politics. Long story short, we have obtained about 75% of the helium we need and think we will have the rest tomorrow. If we do, our launch will be either this weekend or next depending on weather conditions the day of launch. So, stay tuned!

At this point we have tested the parachute with a identical weight payload, created the actual payload, mounted the cameras and tested the location devices.

All that remains is constructing the fill device and creating launch checklists for pre-launch and launch day items. Oh, and testing the GPS retrieval devices again and maybe one more time after that.

– Terra Incognita Team


For more information on Helium shortage read below.

It seems the Helium shortage is national/international shortage not just regional. Because of the scarce supply all the distributors have put the suppliers on a reduced ration and banned new accounts for their suppliers. There are checks and balances in place to monitor this. And the suppliers have intern, suspended all new accounts and significantly rationed existing accounts. It is almost impossible to get helium even if you need it for your business. And they are prioritizing medical (seems it is used in MRI applications), labs (superconductor cooling) and businesses first. We cannot purchase helium unless it is from someone who already has an account with a supplier and is willing to give us a some from their tightly rationed allocation. Yikes!

The cause of the shortage is twofold :

First, it turns out a An act called “Helium Privatization Act of 1996” set into motion the privatization of helium by selling off the national helium reserves by 2015. The reserves had been created as a result of a previous act in 1960 called the “Helium Acts Amendments of 1960” that required 5 private plants to recover helium from natural gas and resulted in the United States supplying up to 90% of the worlds helium. This program ran a deficit of 1.5 billion dollars by 1995 causing congress to review its ongoing feasibility. They decided it was time to privatize. However, it seems that because the government price fixes helium, private enterprise did not ramp up to meet demand (no economic benefit to doing so) as the reserves are depleted thus leaving us in this predicament. Moving forward in time, at this point the US only supplies 30% of the helium in the world and we are probably a year away from having a new plant in Wyoming going which will help with, but not solve, national supply issues.

The U.S. Senate is considering a bill called the Helium Stewardship Act of 2012. It would extend the 2015 deadline for the sell-off of the Federal Helium Program and allow the federal government to continue supplying world markets with helium, selling it at market prices instead of government-set prices. It is possible that if that bill is not passed, the funding mechanism for the BLM’s helium operations will expire, leaving researchers and MRI manufacturers in the cold by the end of next year. Congress has taken no action on the bill since its introduction in April.

Second, for some reason plants that produce helium shut down during the summer when it is exceptionally hot. This is exacerbating the supply problem nationally. There are only two plants and one is closed. It seems the storage of Helium carries a high cost and there are just not facilities to stockpile enough helium outside of the BLM facility.

Who knew we would get a lesson in politics and economics for this project, yet here we are.

For those wanting to learn more:

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Capsule Construction, Testing & Planning

It’s been a couple weeks since our project was funded and we wanted to update you on our progress. We’ve been hard at work ordering equipment, testing equipment, and solving various problems.

The following equipment has been ordered and received:

  • 2 GoPro2 cameras and extended battery packs
  • Sony NEX-5 and 16mm pancake lens
  • IR intervalometer for still photo time lapse
  • Spot GPS and geo location service
  • GPS Tracker via cell texting

GoPro’s are working great and with the extended battery packs will have plenty of power to last the entire 2 1/2 to 3 hour trip.

We’ve tested the SPOT GPS and learned how to track down a payload within 10-20 meters. We will need to run a couple more test recoveries to see how accomplished we can become.

The intervalometer is triggering the NEX-5 perfectly. The file size for a camera RAW file is about 15 megapixels and we have calculated that we should set the interval to about 5-7 seconds to take the maximum number of pictures for the duration of the flight and not fill up the 32 GB SD card. We still need to test the camera battery to ensure it will take pictures all the way up and back (covering a maximum of 3 hours). This may push us closer to the 7 second mark to conserve battery depending on how the tests go. We also know that the colder the battery gets the fewer pictures we can take so we will want to be careful and err on the side of more time between shots.

We did encounter one issue with the IR trigger: it only works from in front of the camera. However, Saturday we planned a work around using a mirror that will allow us to place the trigger above and slightly behind the camera and still keep the majority of the camera (and intervalometer) inside the payload container.

The GPS tracker that uses cell technology has been a little more problematic. The first unit we received worked great with our ATT pre-paid sim card. However, when we texted the unit and requested the GPS, it responded but would not send the coordinates. So, the unit worked great from a messaging and cellular standpoint, but the GPS appeared to be broken. Our second unit had issues with the on and off switch and the seat for the SIM card. It was of very poor construction. These were supposed to be the same product but clearly had differences. We are hoping the third unit will actually work. If it doesn’t, we are going to have to find another option for cell based GPS tracking.

Saturday we worked on measuring the payload weight so we could determine the balloon size, parachute size, ascent rate (in meters per second), descent rate (also in meters per second), burst altitude, and amount of helium for the correct lift rate to place the balloon at its burst altitude in 1 1/2 hours and the descent taking 1 hour. All these things enable us to run computer models using wind speed calculations to predict where the payload will land more accurately. We had to convert a lot of different measurements to the same format which posed several mathematical challenges. Mini’s dad jumped in and helped with a key one. Thanks! 🙂

Now that we can run more accurate simulations, we are going to run them every day for the next two weeks. This will allow us to pick 3-4 different launch sites that, based on the weather pattern, are most likely to leave the payload in farm land. The plan will be to run the simulation the morning of launch and pick the most appropriate location based on the simulation. Then, we can drive to the location, run through our launch check list and go. Currently, we think either the 21st or 28th of July will most likely be the launch date.

We have ordered the appropriate size balloon and parachute today along with the radar reflector. We still don’t have the right size payload container. The one in the picture at the top of the page is just too big so we are working on getting a smaller container.

Tasks ahead over the next few weeks:

  • Receiving additional materials
  • Finding an appropriate payload container
  • Building the capsule with the equipment
  • Testing the capsule with the parachute
  • Running more recovery tests via GPS devices
  • Acquiring helium tank
  • Building a hose and valve to fill the balloon
  • Creating counter weight for appropriate “lift weight”
  • Compiling pre-launch check list
  • Compiling launch check list That’s about it.

We are all very excited to see what we get back!

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Thank You!!!!

Dear Supporters,

We girls from Project Terra Incognita: The Edge and Back would like to thank you for donating. Your donation really helped us reach our goal of $3,600 and more! If it weren’t for you, it would have taken us a lot longer to even come close to our goal. Thank you very much, again, for funding our project, Project Terra Incognita: The Edge and Back.




Thank you all so much for all of your generosity and support for our project. We know that most of you we don’t know and you don’t know us, but we appreciate everything that you have done for this project, from funding $1 or more to leaving very supportive and encouraging comments on our page. We also thank you for liking us on Facebook and linking our website and/or KickStarter page to Twitter or any other social network you may participate in. So, once again, thank you very much for your support and generosity for our project!



Dear Supporters of Project Terra Incognita,

Thank you so much for your generosity. We are very grateful! We know that without your help we would have never reached our goal. As a result of your gifts, my five friends and I will be able to do something no one our age has ever done before. We will gain knowledge and insight the best way we can, by actually doing it. We will observe to learn, just like Sir Issac Newton and the apple, we will be able to share our findings with you.

Thanks again,


Dear Supporters and Backers,

Thank you very much for your donation to Project Terra Incognita: The Edge and Back. We appreciate your interest and support. Without you we could not do this.

Maia Madison


Hey everybody!

This is Mini Ganesh, and I just wanted to say thank you for all the help that you have given us. To all the people who contributed, I am really grateful. Without you, we wouldn’t even have a chance to send those cameras into near space. Thank you for helping us achieve our goal, and we’ll do our best to make you proud. I really appreciate all your help and support! And now, I know that I speak for the team: THANK YOU!!!!!! 🙂



Dear Backers,

I cannot possibly thank you all enough for helping us reach our funding goal. I’m glad I get to do this project and without your help we would’ve never been able to do it. It’s amazing to think that so many people from around the world of different backgrounds, most of whom we didn’t know, are willing and able to come together to support a common cause. My dad says we couldn’t have done this even 3 years ago. I cannot wait to share what we learn and experience with you. We will post updates on and so please be sure to keep up with our project. As one of our backers said, “The sky is NOT the limit!” and you have proven that.

Thank You and Ad Astra!!!!



Dear Backers,

I’m not sure I could say it any better than the girls already have. Thank you so very much for supporting the girls in their project. EVERY donation mattered no matter how small or large. I thank you not just for the monetary contribution but for supporting the underlying sentiment of what this project represents. There is no way we could do something like this without you. While at one level, this project is what it is, a science (and photography) project by a group of young people. At another level, I think it is something more; It represents a small step towards more actively engaging young girls in science, technology and aerospace. Most importantly, It’s about learning to achieve. I hope this project, the team and our backers inspire other young ladies to challenge what may seem impossible and to learn, grow and achieve things they might not have done otherwise.

You made this possible and we sincerely thank you.

And now the fun begins!!

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Funding Successful!!

On Jun 11th 2012 “The Edge And Back” was funded. Below is an outline of our funding chart showing the timing of the donations.

The chart and table below show the source of the donations to the project.

The Chart below show the rewards selected by frequency.

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