Yes, the 121C team actually sent a skateboard to the edge of space! Inspired by the record setting space jump of Fearless Felix Baumgartner, we lofted our prototype carbon fiber Rover skateboard high above California’s Mojave Desert with a helium balloon. We recorded the event with a VR camera rig provided by USC student Tong Liu. You can share this experience in VR on your smartphone and even buy the board from our Kickstarter.
You can experience the flight of the rover in VR on your iPhone or Android device while 121C spokesperson and former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría provides a compelling narration. “Mike LA” relates what your viewing to his experiences during Soyuz launch to the International Space Station.
Be sure to look straight up at 1:50 – 2:00 to watch the balloon explode as the Earth’s thin atmosphere gives way to vacuum. It’s very cool. Then watch out! As our parachute deploys, the spinning that results may challenge your equilibrium and your stomach.
PLAN, PREPARE AND TEST!
Getting everything ready for launch required some serious planning and preparation. Before setting out for Mojave, we assembled the perfect Rover with Shark Wheels and Randal Trucks. We added the avionics at the USC rocket lab. The complete rig included: a large weather balloon, a parachute, line for the balloon, a six camera VR rig, a pole to attach the skateboard to the VR rig, a SPOT GPS tracker and a set of auxiliary USB batteries for the cameras. We also insulated the cameras against the cold.
FILL UP ALONG THE WAY AND GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP!
On the way out to Mojave, we stopped off in Palmdale for a little late night rocket fuel and arriving pretty late, we checked into a charming Mojave, CA resort.
As tempting as it was to stay at this fabulous desert resort, we had to head out before dawn in order to get our launch in before Mojave’s notorious winds picked up.
USE THE RIGHT TOOLS!
Using our online balloon flight prediction system, we selected an area just off the highway 14 near Red Rock Canyon Mojave as the best launch site. It’s a dramatically beautiful area in the early morning light. Our support equipment included a 4×4 Ford F250 filled with tools, an industrial cylinder of helium, our tracking app equipped smart phones and a dirt bike for the recovery search operation.
Being the careful engineer he is, Ryan insisted on conducting a scientific quality test on the gas.
After his Donald Duck impersonation had confirmed we had indeed purchased helium, we proceeded with the fill procedure, being extremely careful not to puncture the balloon. We had a spare latex balloon, but our shot required pretty much the entire cylinder of gas and we couldn’t afford to blow off much of it.
With the balloon filed, we tied off the end and began to attach the rig. The lift from the balloon was dramatic and made our arms sore just holding it.
Ready to go, we phoned the local FAA tower and reminded them of our launch (we’d connected with them earlier to make sure we were in compliance) and advised them of our anticipated flight path so they could notify local air traffic. Tong got the honors of releasing
the unusual craft. When he let go of the Rover we saw the ballon, the skateboard and $2,500 worth of Tong’s photo gear rise swiftly into the sky! (that’s why we made him do it, LOL).
For the next hour we chased our rig across 60 miles of desert, following the location updates sent to our phones via the SPOTs satellite uplink. Those only came every 10 minutes, so it was sometimes a bit of guessing game which way to go.
Recovery turned out to be disappointingly easy! The rig landed within a couple of miles of our target, just off Hwy 395 near Kramer Junction – you may have stopped there if you’ve driven to Mammoth Mountain to board and ski. The final GPS ping location led us right to the Rover laying on its side on some bare level ground, just a short walk off a dirt road. We unfortunately had no excuse to get out the motorcycle! (Absolutely no desert tortoises were disturbed in the making of this film.)
The Rover skateboard was in perfect condition and much to Tong’s relief the VR rig and the six cameras were in great shape too. One of the SD memory cards had ejected from a GoPro on landing – but there was no loss of flight video. As you can see from the footage we reached the edge of the space, where
the thin shell of atmosphere wraps around the curve of the Earth and sun is white in a darkening sky. The cool “little planet” effect – created by stitching together an ultra wide angle view from the GoPro VR rig – dramatically exagerates that!
Lunch was had at Kraemer Junction’s finest dining establishment: The Astroburger! We were pleasantly surprised that we were seated promptly despite our lack of reservations.
Where, after a hilarious chase back and forth across Hwy. 395, some running around the desert and a few bites on the hands, we managed to rescue this lost dog – obviously named “Astro.”
With the mission accomplished, it was obviously time to go skate the trench over by the Mojave power distribution facility.
BUY THE BOARD!
The actual first Skateboard in Space is hanging in our production facility now. If you would like to own this unusual bit of history and topic of conversation, you can purchase it on our Kickstarter campaign! Just scroll all the way to the bottom and be the first pledge of $2,500 by the deadline of July 30. This complete Rover skate board is in remarkably perfect condition after the flight – it has a small circular hole in the middle of the deck where the mast for the VR rig attached.