- Your News
By FAITH JONES
Special to The News
That’s the name of a unique experiment that ended with stunning success, thanks to the efforts of a determined group of forward-thinking young people led by Adam Stuart, a 2011 Tullahoma High School graduate.
The project took flight this year on Feb. 18 when budding filmmaker Stuart and his crew launched a weather balloon from Tullahoma carrying a camera to an estimated 100,000 feet in an attempt to photograph the curvature of the Earth.
Little did they know that it would be 76 days, and many failed attempts, later before they were able to retrieve the film footage from its impact point 178 miles away.
“We had calculated the trajectory several times before,” Adam said. “All of the marks showed an impact just east of Maryville, Tennessee, but due to an unexpected change in the jet stream, the camera was dropped into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.”
The camera rig was made of an outdoor faucet insulator, zip ties, and duct tape. The crew filmed the ascent by using a GoPro HERO camera that was able to capture life above the clouds, and the coordinates were tracked by Adam’s iPhone 4S that was in the camera apparatus. Also, a makeshift LED circuit was included to comply with Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
Once the camera was located, the group started the extensive six-hour drive to North Carolina. When they arrived to the park, they made the disappointing discovery that a park gate barred the closest road they needed to take to reach the camera.
Upon speaking with several park rangers, the team members learned that the road would remain closed for the entire season. They formulated plans to use nearby connector trails to jump back on the road, but the distance from the gate to the impact zone was too far for the team to hike.
Their struggles also were increased by a snowstorm approaching the Smokies and they all had to head back home.
The second and third attempts to retrieve the camera were made in March. The second attempt was made after a portion of the road reopened in early March. Adam and his father Bill hiked six miles from the park gate, but there was not enough daylight for them to continue on the trail.
On the third attempt, Adam and Bill were able to locate the camera. To their surprise, it was tangled in a tree branch roughly 75 feet from the ground.
Finally, attempt four was a success. Adam and Chris Olstad, a friend in town from San Diego, made the final hike to the camera zone. Chris brought along his tree-climbing gear and made his way up the tree. After a matter of minutes, Chris was able to retrieve the camera and safely bring it down — indeed an exciting moment.
The following evening Adam and Chris showed the camera’s film footage during the recent American Bonanza Society’s fly-in at the Beechcraft Heritage Museum in Tullahoma.
“The chatter of the crowd quickly diminished as they became completely engrossed in the videography and beautiful music that accompanied it,” Chris said.
And yes, the camera captured the curvature of the earth and the vast void of space.
“For the next ten minutes, you could have heard a pin drop as everyone was mesmerized by the images shown on the screen. It was definitely the highlight of the evening. It’s forward- thinking individuals such as Adam who are the future of these organizations and aviation as a whole,” Chris said.
Grant Pruitt, a crew member, shared his overall experience:
“I think this project really shows how far we’ve come as a species. It’s amazing that a bunch of teenagers can get together and do something like this — something nobody on this planet would have thought possible just a short century ago. And the best part of it all is that we didn’t do this for fame or money. We did it because we wanted to. Because we could.”
Adam added, “The coolest thing about this project is that no one prompted us to do this. We saw the odds, and we looked past them. We found a way to make it work. And that’s when true learning happens. That’s education.”
“Project Stratosphere” can be found at facebook.com/adamstuartfilm. The video can be seen at atwww.vimeo.com/adamstuart/projectstratosphere
Adam is the son of Bill Stuart, a Nissan employee, and Belinda Stuart, a West Middle School teacher.
Since graduating from THS he has taken basic courses from Motlow College and worked at the Beechcraft Heritage Museum.
“My goal is to be able to work in the motion picture industry,” he said. “I have had a difficult time finding a good college that will give me the opportunities that I need.
“Right now, UTC and Sewanee are in the mix —I’ll find out from Sewanee any day now. Until I get there, I’ve just made my own opportunities. Stratosphere is one of those examples.”
(EDITOR”S NOTE: Faith Jones is a senior
at Tullahoma High School.)