Menzingen, 16.04.2013

Spectacular aerial photographs of Switzerland

One might expect these stunning photographs of Central Switzerland to have been taken by scientists from NASA in Houston, but they were taken from camera fixed to a weather balloon launched by a local primary school teacher and his half-brother on Sunday.
Reto Speerli teaches at the Elementa private primary school in Menzingen, where he has been working for some time on an Icarus project. "I wanted to show my pupils how a physical problem could be solved in an entertaining way," he said, and the spectacular photographs are clearly proof he was most successful.
The photographs were taken by an HD camera at an altitude of 30,000 metres above Central Switzerland. With the help of his younger half-brother, Alexander, (12), Speerli attached the camera to a weather balloon which they launched in the Solothurn Jura near Olten on Sunday. It subsequently flew for two-and-a-half hours in a south-easterly direction to Lucerne and landed near the Transport Museum there. It was able to be traced by a GPS transmitter and was assured of a gentle landing by means of a parachute fixed to the weather balloon.
"At 30 kilometres high the equipment has to withstand temperatures of -70°C," explained Speerli, "not to mention great differences in pressure. Naturally we had to take all these elements into consideration when putting it all together."
The teacher explained that building space probes was quite uncomplicated. "All you need is a sturdy weather balloon made of latex; you can get these on the internet for about CHF 90. Then you need to fix a styrofoam capsule to it to house the camera. The weight of the balloon and the camera  amounts to 1,400 grammes. The balloon is then filled with helium, which, as it is lighter than air, takes off into the stratosphere, where it expands to about 10 metres and eventually bursts. Then the parachute is activated, ensuring its lands gently on the ground."
Earlier this year in February Speerli launched a test balloon but unfortunately fog prevented good pictures from being taken. On Saturday 18 May, or one week later, 14 pupils of the Elementa School, all aged between 8 and 12, will be excitedly launching equipment with weather balloons and cameras they have made themselves into the stratosphere in the hope of getting some more spectacular photographs.