Wondering what to do with that old clunker of a digital camera you've got in your drawer? Try taking photos of space with it. Three enterprising MIT students have successfully launched and retrieved a digital camera in order to snap photos of the earth from the upper atmosphere -- and they did it all for under $150.
Using a helium-filled weather balloon, a Styrofoam cooler, a GPS-enabled Motorola i290 prepaid cellphone, and a used Canon A470 point-and-shoot that they bought on Amazon for $40 (plus other inexpensive off-the-shelf items, such as disposable hand warmers to keep the battery from freezing in-flight), the students were able to launch the camera to an estimated altitude of 93,000 feet and capture some fantastic photos of the earth's curvature set against the darkness of space.
By loading the A470 with the CHDK open source firmware add-on, the students were able to implement an intervalometer script to allow the camera to take pictures every 5 seconds during the camera's 5-hour, 20 mile journey from its launch in Sturbridge, Mass., to its retrieval in Worcester, Mass (with the Motorola phone broadcasting the camera's GPS location by text message all along the way).
Though they were not the first to attempt such a launch, the low-budget simplicity of their project makes it exceptional.
For a time-lapse video of the camera's journey: