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Central Standard

Near Space Ballooners To Gather For Kansas 'Super Launch'

John Flaig

When most people pick a hobby, it's usually something simple like knitting or playing a sport recreationally. With John Flaig's hobby, it's a little more complicated.

Flaig and over 70 others like him will gather in Hutchinson, Kan., this weekend to practice "near space ballooning" or "ham ballooning."

The hobbyists send helium filled weather balloons into near space, which is between 60,000 and 328,000 feet above sea level.

Flaig's balloon has several cameras inside a Styrofoam payload box, taking pictures from all angles and altitudes along the way.

"You're using a scientific instrument to achieve an artistic end," Flaig said. "It's probably the closest I'll get to touching space."

Credit Cody Newill / KCUR
An inside look at the four cameras and GPS trackers that John Flaig uses in his near space balloon payload.

Eventually the helium balloon expands and bursts, sometimes falling hundreds of miles from where it was originally cast off. At that point, Flaig and other enthusiasts use GPS or ham radio to find the remains of the apparatus. 

Here is a video from National Geographic showing Flaig's process and his beautiful near space photography of the Grand Canyon:

Central Standard photographyspaceRadio
Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.