It was 50 years ago today that Air Force Capt. Joe Kittinger stepped off of a gondola that was suspended under a helium balloon 102,800 feet from the ground and fell back to Earth. It set a world record for a parachute jump that stands to this day and it cemented his place in the histories of both space exploration and badassery.
It's not something I'd want to try myself--indeed, Kittinger nearly reached the speed of sound and I get scared on a rollercoaster. But with today's digital technology, I don't have to put myself at risk to check out near-space. An aptly named nonprofit called Quest For The Stars works with middle and high school students to take cameras and other gear to the farthest reaches of the atmosphere using the same helium balloon technology that the USAF used with Kittenger's jump.
For $300 to $500 per school (depending on the project), Quest For The Stars sends up a custom payload to the very edges of space. But a recent payload launched outside of San Diego was geeky enough to make Crave: a Motorola Droid, making it the first Droid in space (though not the first to try).
The inclusion of the handset wasn't just a gimmick though. The device was loaded with the GPS app Accutrack and a time-lapse photo app for its camera called Droid Lapse that took photos of the trip, which reached about 107,000 feet.
Like Kittenger, the phone made it back to Earth able to tell its tale, despite being buzzed by a fighter jet. It was recovered last Friday along with the other equipment attached to the balloon. The pictures the phone took are great and make this journalist want to repeat the experiment, but I'm not sure I have enough helium to support my iPhone 3Gs.