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Five Harvard students send first burger into stratosphere

Posted by Your Town  November 9, 2012 03:23 PM

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balloon5.jpg By Emily Files, Globe Correspondent

Five Harvard students took a historic step in fast food history recently by sending a hamburger 30 kilometers in the air and into the Earth’s stratosphere.

A camera accompanied the hamburger on the Oct. 27 helium-balloon ride and recorded the pioneering sandwich floating above the trees, through the clouds, and above Earth’s curve, with outer space in the background.

The students posted a three-minute video of the hamburger’s journey on YouTube, calling it “Operation Skyfall: First Hamburger in Space.” The quirky video has been viewed over 150,000 times in less than a week.

balloon6.jpg Renzo Lucioni (pictured, second from left), one of the students who worked on the project, said he had wanted to launch something into space for a while. He was no stranger to daunting projects – he said he built a laser during his freshman year. The Harvard junior got the idea for this project from MIT students who sent a camera into space via helium balloon in 2009.

Lucioni, a computer science major, got together with friends Nuseir Yassin, Daniel Broudy, Matthew Moellman and Jamie Law-Smith (all pictured above) for the “operation.” Early on, they realized they needed financial backing.” There is a global helium shortage that made it difficult and expensive for the students to get their hands on this essential ingredient. In their quest for a sponsor, they sent an email to local hamburger chain, b.good.

“They seemed to be a fun company, so we thought they might be down for doing something like this,” Lucioni said.

balloon4.jpg The students heard back from b.good five minutes after sending the email, Lucioni said. The restaurant provided them with $1,000 backing for the project -- and the hambuger.

“We took that and ran with it,” Lucioni said.

The five friends gathered the materials they needed for the contraption (materials pictured at left), which included the helium, a balloon, a Styrofoam shipping container, a GoPro Hero camera, a smart phone for GPS, a parachute, hand warmers to keep the camera warm in the cold stratosphere, and, most importantly, the hamburg and its acrylic seat.

The burger and its makeshift spaceship were launched from Sturbridge, Mass. The camera captured about three hours of footage of the burger floating up through the sky and into the atmosphere, Lucioni said. In the YouTube video, it's cut down to about a minute. Then, the video shows the balloon popping and viewers get a bright glimpse of the sun before the device whistles through the air back to Earth.

burger!.jpg The burger was no longer in space, but the adventure wasn't over. Lucioni and his friends were able to track the burger to Byfield, but they couldn't find it for a while because it had landed in an 100-foot tree.

After some unsuccessful attempts to knock the device out of the tree with a crossbow-like mechanism, they resorted to hiring a professional tree climber to retrieve their creation.

To their surprise, the burger was gone. The camera battery had died by then, so it remains a mystery what happened to the now-famous meal. Presumably, a squirrel feasted on it before they were able to get it out of the tree, Lucioni said.

After watching the footage, Lucioni said he and his comrades were “ecstatic.”

“We want more,” he said. “We’re happy with that, but it can always be better.”

They have talked to Boloco about a potential “burrito in space” project, but nothing is set in stone, Lucioni said.

View more pictures of the set-up for "Operation Skyfall" here. Emily Files can be reached at emily.files@globe.com.

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