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Strapping a camera on moving objects is a great way to gather breathtaking shots. In the past, individuals used handheld shooters attached to surfboards, rockets and cars. The latest group to apply the unconventional shooting method is Night Crew Labs. The media adventure team (Bryan Chan, Ashish Goel, Tyler Reid, Paul Tarantino and Corey Snyder) launched a stratospheric weather balloon from Presidio, San Francisco, where the vessel reached 91,470 feet and eventually landed around 100 miles away from the original site. Rough winds, coupled with fast-moving clouds carried the rig safely across Northern California. Aboard the payload, the crew packed the following devices:

  • Sony A7s mirrorless camera with a Sony 10-18mm f/4 lens
  • GoPro HERO4 Black (two)
  • Samsung Galaxy S5
  • GoPro HERO3+
  • SPOT GPS tracker
  • USB battery packs

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The setup was separated into two stages, where the dangling components captured wide-angle views of the area. A parachute under the balloon ensured the safety of the payload during the downward descent. At the peak of the trip, the balloon burst over fields south of Salinas, California. Footage from the attached GoPro Hero 3+ captured the rupture in real-time, which paved the way for the slow descent of the contraption.

“After returning to the cars, we immediately pulled out the SD cards from the cameras and to our delight, found that all the cameras had captured some amazing footage,” said the team members. “We were literally jumping with joy when we saw the amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco downtown, Bay Bridge, Monterey Bay and a giant rainbow across the bay area.”

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This was not the first time the team launched a customized weather balloon in the sky. Two years ago, the crew attached a similar rig, containing a GoPro Hero3 camera, Sony camcorder and a Samsung Galaxy Note 2, from Tuba City, Arizona. The balloon landed in an area without adequate cellular coverage, which prevented the group from tracking the payload accurately.

“Cell coverage in the area of the Grand Canyon was not as shown on some service providers websites. As a result of this, we lost contact with the balloon payload and did not hear from it again. We did have a backup transponder onboard which broadcast in the amateur radio band, but this proved too faint to be of use. The payload ran out its batteries and lay dormant in the desert for nearly 2 years,” said the crew in a blog post.

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Assuming that the rig was destroyed by mother nature, the students lost hope and abandoned the search. Two years later, a hiker found the rig with the SIM card intact. The AT&T employee took it back to the store where she pulled up the owner’s information and returned it back to the crew. Surprisingly, the footage was preserved during the ordeal. After retrieving the cameras, the team concluded that the balloon reached over 18.5 miles above the Earth’s surface with a total flight time of 98 minutes. The shots contained spectacular views of the Grand Canyon.

With a handful of successful projects under their belt, the crew is currently preparing for other exciting balloon launches. On the Night Crew Labs website, representatives announced a possible launching from Alaska, with an objective of capturing the Northern Lights from extremely high viewpoints.

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