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Putting a Lego Man into (Near-)Space

Posted by Josh Rothman  January 27, 2012 09:48 AM

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Two Canadian high-school seniors, Matthew Ho and Asad Muhammad, have launched a Lego man into near-space -- about 24 kilometers above sea level. (Space officially begins at about 100 kilometers above sea level, at the Kármán line.) The camera they attached to his weather balloon clearly shows the Lego man, clutching a Canadian flag, with the curvature of the Earth behind him:

According to the Toronto Star, "Ho dreamt up the project two summers ago when he saw an online video of a balloon sent to near space by some Massachusetts Institute of Technology students":

He decided to try it himself. He likes building things and has an adventurous streak, he says. He wants to be an entrepreneur, so he has applied to Queen?s University and University of British Columbia for commerce.

Ho approached Muhammad in the hallway of Agincourt Collegiate Institute, where they are both Grade 12 students. Muhammad has a passion for all things flight-related. His goal is to be an aircraft technician, so he has applied to engineering programs at U of T and Centennial College.

The two met in middle school. Muhammad?s family had just immigrated emigrated from Pakistan, and he spoke no English. When other students were ignoring him, Ho walked up and made friends.

And the rest is history! American teenagers: the gauntlet has been thrown down. I'm thinking it's time to get one of these Lego Space Shuttles into near-space as well.

Update: As readers have pointed out, the Lego man went neither into "orbit" nor into "space" -- he simply went as high as any weather balloon might go, into the upper atmosphere. I can mount no defense of the word "orbit" -- there was absolutely no orbiting involved. But I will point out that the term "near space" is sometimes used to describe the altitude at which the Lego man's balloon seems to have popped. This graphic should give you a good sense of where the Lego man topped out, vis-a-vis the altitude at which the Space Shuttle, say, orbits the earth.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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