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Three, Two, One … Geo-Liftoff

One small step for mankind, another giant leap forward for geocaching …

At least that’s what American Scott Cole (GC handle: e6c or Echo Six Charlie) is hoping with his second attempt to launch a geocache into space.

Last December, the North Carolina resident sent a weather balloon-tethered cache 19 miles (30.5 kilometres) up into the atmosphere before tracking it to its landing point 120 miles (193km) to the east, where he placed the final of GC2JPJJ Sputnik 2010: A Geocache Odyssey.

This time, Cole says “we are going BIGGER and FARTHER! We will go over the 100,000-foot (30840 metres) barrier! We will travel more than 200 miles!” – but only if he can raise US$1000 (NZ$1200) by August 24th.

For that, he’s seeking public donations via online funding platform Kickstarter to finance the requisite GPS tracker/receiver (US$250), two weather balloons (US$320), camera (US$200), retrieval equipment (US$100) and helium tank rental (US$100).

“Quite simply, I am trying to launch a geocache up into what is technically known as ‘near-space’,” Cole says. “I have done this before, and it even received official ‘Geocache of the Week’ honours.

“To get the cache up into near-space, I am simply filling up a weather balloon with helium, tying on a payload container – from which the cameras will hang – and then beneath that will be the actual geocache.

“Last time I used a ‘flare tube’ so the cache was rated as being ‘small’;  this time I will be using a bigger container. If I can work it out properly, I am going to try to have the first ever large-container geocache sent up into near-space.”

To tempt investors, the career US Army man is offering several chances to be involved in his project. Pledge US$1 for a thank you on the GC.com listing page, give US$10 and your name will be on a laminated list included in the cache, US$50 earns you a travel bug called “YOUR NAME Went to Space!” which will visit the stars, US$100 gets your geocoin a ticket on the flight, and a pledge of US$250 will see you listed as a co-hider.

So far, Cole has raised US$731, thanks to nine backers – including It’s Not About The Numbers’ kjwx – and says public reaction “really has been great – even my non-geocaching friends are impressed”.

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His own journey to stardom began in 2010 with “an article about a father and son that launched an iPhone into near-space, and I thought: ‘I can do this’.”

The self-confessed “nerd websites” fan spent US$300 on Sputnik 2010 but admits to cutting “a lot of corners”.  “I used cheap cameras that, in all honesty, were lucky to survive the trip. I also used a much smaller balloon; Sputnik 2010 had a 19ft balloon (the size at which it will pop), while this new cache will have a 30 or 35ft balloon – and this is where most of the money is going. Each balloon – and I have to get two, just in case one pops during filling – costs US$249.

“The other big expense is the GPS tracker/receiver. Last time I rented and the company was terrible, they sent me the wrong thing at first and were just a pain to deal with so, this time, I am buying my own.”

Version 2.0 will also take longer to build, thanks to the addition of a buoyancy checker, but all going to plan it should take “less than a day”.  “If things don’t work out right, it could easily turn into a weekend or two project,” he adds.

Either way, Cole hopes to launch in late August or early to mid-September.  “If the Kickstarter project goes well and I pass the $1000 limit quickly, then I will go ahead and purchase everything I need and try to do the launch on August 27th.  I will hold another geocaching event like GC2JPJK Event Horizon and make sure everyone knows.”

Essentially, Sputnik 2011 will be a solo mission – unlike the  GAIA (Geocaching Amateur Interorbital Alliance) team he assembled last year - though he has co-opted Dirtbag Geocaching Society member Striza into filming this odyssey.

Yet Cole, who admits to often playing astronaut as a child, denies his scheme requires any skills other imagination.  “Seriously, that’s it. Did you know that helium is lighter than air and that if you use enough, it can lift small objects? Well, congrats, you just solved the hardest part to this project.

“If it wasn’t for the expenses, anyone could do this and, to be honest, I am surprised this project hasn’t been copied already.”

If Sputnik 2011 is successful, Cole’s next goal is to propel a balloon geocache across the Atlantic Ocean. “I want to launch the balloon from the beach and just let it go. To be honest, I don’t expect that it will cross the Atlantic, but who cares? If it lands in the middle and gets caught up in the currents only to wash up on the shores of South America, that would be awesome.

“The nice thing about that project is it doesn’t matter where the cache lands. There are geocachers everywhere so, as long as it reaches dry land, someone will be able to get it.”

And, of course, he’d eventually like to log Richard Garriott‘s cache GC1BE91 International Space Station.

“Richard, if you are reading this, will you buy me a ticket – please? If I did manage to get myself up there, I would want to leave my own cache too. Mine would probably be a puzzle cache, though, so sadly most of the astronauts wouldn’t know it was there because they don’t have puzzle caches on their alerts.”

*It’s Not About The Numbers readers need not fear … We’ll keep you up-to-date with any developments in Cole’s project. To help him reach his US$1000 goal, pledge your support at his Kickstarter page by August 24th (that’s only 16 days away).

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  1. ErikaJean

    Wow, he’s not too far from his goal Sounds like a cool idea.

    … but can I ask a stupid question..? Can this stuff falling back to earth injure someone? Especially if its bigger and filled with geocoins? or do they not actually put the stuff in it? or does it fall back with some kind of parachute?

  2. Ian McGlynn on Facebook

    Are you kidding me right now???

  3. Dee Gee Ess on Facebook

    really…

  4. chunkymunky06

    Really??? Did you just post that? But just to clarify, yeah there is a parachute(he knows a guy in chutes) and all will be safe and sound. If there is further concern we will give you the heads up on launch day so you can stay inside.

  5. Ian McGlynn on Facebook

    really…

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