Last Sunday morning, Hartley Brody ’12 sent a homemade weather balloon into space from a grocery store parking lot in western Massachusetts, intending to capture footage of the earth’s curvature. Coincidentally, the balloon drifted hundreds of miles northeast, landing in the woods across the street from Brunswick High School, only a few miles from Brody’s alma mater. The footage remained unrecovered at press time.

Felix Baumgartner—an Austrian daredevil who recently shattered records by jumping from a capsule 24 miles above New Mexico—inspired Brody to send his balloon into “space.”

“I think technically it is called near space,” Brody explained. “I call it outer space because seeing the earth dropping off and the black sky is outer space to me. The balloon was supposed to go to about 100,000 feet, but we slightly underinflated it, which means that it rose more slowly and went a little higher before it burst.”

Sunday morning was the best time for New Englanders to catch the Orionid meteor shower, which rained blazing bits of Halley’s Comet down to Earth’s atmosphere. Brody said he hopes he caught footage of the meteor shower.

Brody filled his balloon with helium at Hannaford in North Brookfield, Mass., and launched it in the parking lot. The GPS tracking device lost service for four hours, eventually checking in from the woods near Brunswick High School.

Brody drove up to Maine to try to retrieve the footage, but the sun set before he found it and he returned to Massachusetts empty-handed.

Several parties have expressed interest in helping Brody recover his equipment. An aviation consulting company in Boston offered to fly remote-controlled airplanes over the area to search the treetops.
Bowdoin students organized a search party for the balloon on Monday.

“It was about an hour and fifteen minutes that we spent running around in the forest on Monday evening,” said Hugh Ratcliffe ’15. “I actually don’t know where I was, but it was down that way [near the high school]. We had one map with the general area it was supposed to be in, but it was so hard to tell where we were.”

Ratcliffe said he was disappointed not to recover the footage. He said that the autumnal colors of the parachute made it difficult to spot in the woods.  

Brody expects the footage to be recovered. He said he believes that if enough people are aware of his project, it is more likely to be found, and since the camera was in a waterproof case, he expects the footage to survive the winter, even if it is not recovered this fall.