Los Angeles-based astrophysicist and New York Film Academy instructor Rajiv Uttamchandani wanted to boldly take his students where no film school had gone before, so this summer he and his class launched a 12-by-9-inch weather balloon craft, complete with camera, GPS, and parachute system, from Southern California into space.
Uttamchandani explains what inspired him to go from the classroom into the final frontier:
With a little ingenuity and a little heart you can literally go to space itself. We did this with a thousand dollars' worth of materials, including the helium gas, the balloon, two cameras, and everything. By combining science, education, and Hollywood filmmaking, there is no limit as to what we can do. Even though we are a film school, we can go to space just like NASA can.
Watch the New York Film Academy's launch into space:
Uttamchandani's experiment rose above the Earth's atmosphere to where the temperature drops significantly. 70,000 or 80,000 feet, the air is relatively cooler, before warming up again above 90,000 feet. Therefore the two cameras in the box had to be designed to work in temperatures ranging from -40oC to about 50oC or 60oC. One camera faced a student-made statue of a man holding a camera. The other camera was pointing at the Earth.
We originally planned for three cameras and two GPS systems, but it was too heavy, and we didn't have enough helium gas, so at the last minute we had to remove one of the cameras from the box, and one of the GPS systems.
Uttamchandani and his students find the weather balloon box (image courtesy of NYFA)
The box-craft traveled 100,000 feet into the air and came back down 100 miles away from where it had been launched, in the desert near San Bernardino, Calif. Thanks to the GPS tucked inside the box, Uttamchandani and his class were able to track it with their iPhones in the vast Mojave desert. Thanks to the technology, not to mention a bright-red parachute that stuck out against the bleak desert, they found the box.
I love astrophysics because you are discovering the mysteries of the universe using the language that the universe is made out of, which is physics and mathematics. You explore the questions: How old is the universe, and how old will the universe eventually get? Mathematics is the one constant and consistent language in the universe.
(Image courtesy of NYFA)
In the coming months Uttamchandani hopes to launch another, larger project into space with the New York Film Academy and his students, to help conduct cutting-edge scientific research. He explains:
We will investigate the changes global warming has incurred in Earth's upper atmosphere, changes in wind direction, wind speed, wind velocity, relative humidity, intensity of microwave radiation. If you investigate those changes, we may be surprised with what we find.
Astrophysicist and instructor Rajiv Uttamchandani