ARTICLES / Cambodia

Science Magazine: “From Cambodia, with Helium”

image001Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, launched its first space mission this month. The vessel—dubbed “Preah Atet,” or “The Sun,” by a local 16-year-old high school student—was a 20×30-cm Styrofoam box borne aloft by a helium balloon and festooned with cut-up pool toys in case of
a watery landing. A digital camera, nestled in chemical hand warmers to keep it working in the frigid upper atmosphere, took 2000 photos and a video during the 2.5-hour flight.

All in all, Preah Atet weighed less than 1 kilogram and cost less than $1000,
says Eduardo Jezierski, the chief technical officer of a local NGO and the mission’s
leader. Jezierski learned to construct the space balloon from reading Web
sites and launching similar balloons with friends in America. But Cambodia
presented unique challenges: For one thing, his team had to import approximately
6000 liters of helium from Vietnam. And the country’s minefields, wet
terrain, and limited cell-phone coverage and roads meant Jezierski’s team had
to be trained in land-mine safety and keep mountain bikes and an inflatable
boat on hand to recover the vessel. (Luckily, the box actually landed in a tree,
in a spot accessible by car.)
After the flight, Cambodians in Phnom Penh were treated to a screening of
the video during a performance of popular local band The Cambodian Space
Project—whose tongue-in-cheek name suddenly didn’t sound so absurd. “I
never thought there’d be a space project [in Cambodia], not for a very, very
long time,” said guitarist Julien Poulson. For video taken by Preah Atet, go to
http://tinyurl.com/opbdCambo.

To see the story in PDf click here.

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