“Who doesn’t want a picture of space—one that came from your own camera?” asked seventh grader Katherine Gilbert after sending Rainbow Dash aboard a weather balloon into the stratosphere.
For several years, Katherine, who is a student at a science, math, and technology magnet school, and her father, Mark, a computer programmer, began exploring God’s creation together through science projects. Two years ago they decided to photograph the Earth’s curvature from the stratosphere, which meant lots of research through websites and YouTube videos.
They purchased a weather balloon six feet (2 m) in diameter and equipped it with an instrument pack they built, including a radar reflector, parachute, digital camera, and a My Little Pony Rainbow Dash as passenger. Katherine decorated it with the words of Genesis 1:1, along with the sentence “And we get to explore it!”
To get the information from the balloon to the ground they added a GPS receiver and a ham radio transmitter to enable them to track the balloon’s progress. That meant earning ham radio technician licenses, requiring months of studying and practice.
Finally, on August 20, their preparation culminated with the balloon’s 83,244-foot (25,372 m) ascent from Kalamazoo, Mich. The entire flight took only a couple of hours, but it took two months to recover the capsule. The Gilberts lost GPS tracking when the balloon fell below 11,000 feet (3,300 m) and only knew approximately where it had landed. They spent many weekends scanning fields.
Then on October 31, the balloon with camera was found by a farmer about 75 miles (120 km) away in a cornfield near Reading, when the capsule’s cords got caught in his combine. He called the Gilberts and was one of the first people to see the amazing photographs.
The recovered photos are “spectacular,” according to Katherine—and so worth the work. They released a YouTube video to celebrate the recovery of the capsule and to share some of the photos.
The Gilberts are members of Milwood Community Church (CRC), Kalamazoo, Mich.