What would you do if you had sent a Galaxy Note II, a GoPro, and a digital camcorder into the atmosphere, then think they’d been lost to the winds — only to be reunited with them two years later? That was the DIY scientific journey that Bryan Chan and his four friends endeavored upon when they decided to pool their resources. In their attempt to do some geography mapping, combined with high-altitude videography, they made sound plans based on trajectory models and cellular coverage maps and interconnected devices. However, as their plan to locate the landing point relied solely on the GPS tracking of a cellular network –and as anyone who has ever owned a cell phone can attest — the reliability of such a network can leave one wanting.
Chan discussed his plans in short on reddit:
We planned our June 2013 launch at a specific time and place such that the phone was projected to land in an area with cell coverage. The problem was that the coverage map we were relying on (looking at you, AT&T) was not accurate, so the phone never got signal as it came back to Earth, and we never heard from it. We didn’t know this was the problem at the time – we thought our trajectory model was far off and it landed in a signal dead zone (turns out the model was actually quite accurate). The phone landed ~50 miles away from the launch point, from what I recall. It’s a really far distance considering there’s hardly any roads over there!
TWO YEARS LATER, in a twist of ironic fate, a woman who works at AT&T was on a hike one day and spotted our phone in the barren desert. She brings it to an AT&T store, and they identify my friend’s SIM card. We got the footage and data a few weeks later!
The redditors responding to the post were amazed that the resolution had come an entire two years after the initial launch. All the more amazing is that the devices were left to bake in the remote desert sun for two years without any damage to either the memory card or the sim card.
As far as the actual journey in the video goes, it’s kind of awe-inspiring that it took just over an hour and a half to reach nearly the 100,000 ft. mark. The music choice — “Brother (Kygo Remix)” by Matt Corby — brings to mind the new age wave that swept the 90s, but it’s quite fitting for this high-flying adventure. The moment when the balloon reaches its apex at 98,664 ft., the music cuts out and the freefall begins.