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By John D. Sutter
(CNN) — Oliver Yeh is the kind of guy who cooks up ideas so kooky, so out-of-this-world, that even his fellow MIT students tend to roll their eyes when they hear them.
But that never stops him.
His latest concept — to launch a camera into near-space using a weather balloon, a cell phone, hand warmers and a drink cooler — fell flat when he sent out an e-mail message to dozens of his classmates, asking for help.
Unfazed, Yeh managed to find one friend willing to chip in. And on September 2, the go-it-alone pair floated a balloon-camera high enough into the atmosphere to photograph the curvature of the Earth and the deep black of space, all on a lunch-money budget of $148.
“For me, it was just about not being afraid to do what I love to do,” said Yeh, a 20-year-old MIT senior studying computer science and electrical engineering. “Before, people were just kind of like, ‘That’s a crazy idea; there he goes all over again.’ (Yeh once convinced a friend to float the Charles River with him on a raft made of plastic bottles.)
“I didn’t have a lot of people who wanted to do it with me, so I’m really glad I stuck it out and succeeded in what I wanted to do.”
After Yeh’s fellow student and sidekick, Justin Lee, uploaded the story to CNN’s iReport.com, their camera-to-space effort, which they named Project Icarus, went viral online. Photo See photos of their feat »
Since then, the duo has received a number of requests from other would-be space photographers, asking for their project notes. Yeh said he will post those soon on the project’s Web site at 1337arts.com.
They’ve gotten so many inquiries they had to post this warning: “CAUTION/DISCLAIMER: Launching things into the stratosphere can be DANGEROUS! Please contact the FAA before trying …” READ ALL