Teenager Launches LEGO Shuttle Into Space

Estimated altitude for this flight was about 115,000 feet, says Raul Oaida, 18-years-old. Raul launched the shuttle, along with a video camera and a GPS tracker, by way of a large helium balloon. Flight time was about three hours—the shuttle landing about 150 miles south of where it took off.

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IRA FLATOW, HOST:

With me now is Flora Lichtman, our multimedia editor. Video Pick of the Week, Flora, what have you got for us today?

FLORA LICHTMAN, BYLINE: This one is a good one.

FLATOW: It's always a good one.

LICHTMAN: I feel like everyone should get out their iPhones right now in the audience and look. This one was submitted - or I actually tracked down the person who made it. You may have seen this video. It's a LEGO shuttle that makes it into space.

FLATOW: Ah, yes.

LICHTMAN: Anybody - I know Ira watched it. That was always a good sign.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: So I wanted to track down the story behind this because the headlines were all, you know, a teen sends a LEGO shuttle into space and then he videotaped it and that's the video on our website, because I thought there's got to be a good story here. So I Skyped Raul Oaida...

FLATOW: That's his name.

LICHTMAN: ...in Romania. And he's an 18-year-old who did this pretty much on his own. And this isn't his first project. Before this, he was building jet engines.

FLATOW: And 18-year-old?

LICHTMAN: Yeah, from the Internet.

FLATOW: Don't try this - well, he tried it at home, I guess.

LICHTMAN: He's - I mean, so he's, you know, he sent me like his amazing pictures of jet engines in what looks like a basement, you know, flaming out.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: It was just incredible. So our video this week is kind of the back story, the making of his Lego shuttle video, which has gotten tons of hits in the last. I mean, you know, which is the best...

FLATOW: It's a camera on - it's a Lego guy with a camera on a weather balloon, right?

LICHTMAN: Right. So they take this huge helium balloon, you know, a big, rubber weather balloon, fill it with helium, and then it goes up 115,000 feet. It takes two and a half hours to go up, and then, you know, it's shorter on the way down but...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: Yeah, a little bumpier.

LICHTMAN: Right. But - so they put in the GPS tracker, and then they go find it, and it was, you know, over 100 miles away, but they were lucky because it didn't land in the tree. So it's apparently a big problem when you send Lego shuttles into the trees.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: That's why we have GPS. But it's really technically in space, going up so high.

LICHTMAN: Yeah.

FLATOW: And you can see the curvature of the Earth on this thing.

It's so beautiful. It really is.

And he did it on a cheap in his house after building the rocket engine.

LICHTMAN: Well, so - yeah. So he - I asked him, you know, where did you get the funding? And this is a really interesting little tidbit, I thought. He met someone over Twitter, a sort of entrepreneur who works in marketing and was kind of trying to sell his ideas about rocketry because he also wants to build a rocket. As he said, he wants to go to space so badly that he said he'll build the rocket himself if he has to. So he hooked up with this guy in Australia who said, OK, you know, this is tiny budget for what could be really cool and there you have it.

FLATOW: There you have it. All right. There it is up on our website, @sciencefriday.com, our Video Pick of the Week. Flora, thank you very much.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: That's about all the time we have for today. Flora Lichtman is our multimedia editor. And before we go in this first section, I want to wish a special congratulations to the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. This nonprofit organization has helped the last scientist. They gave money to Albert Einstein, rocket pioneer Robert Goddard, and they helped make our stay in Washington possible. So I want to wish a happy 100th birthday. And to Jim Gentile who was up here from RSCA, thank you all for helping us make SCIENCE FRIDAY possible here in Washington.

I'm Ira Flatow in Washington.

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