The exhaust plume from the launch of the space shuttle Discovery stretches into the stratosphere on February 24, as seen from a balloon lofted to the edge of space. Nicknamed Robonaut-1, the helium-filled balloon and its payload were built and deployed with student assistance.
The mission goals for Robonaut-1 were to fly an experiment built in part using suggestions from high schoolers, to bring them the results—and to "make flight history by capturing Discovery transiting the stratosphere," Bobby Russell said via email. Russel is CEO of the California-based Quest for Stars, which organized the project with the Virginia-based Challenger Center for Space Science Education. Both nonprofit organizations aim to get schoolchildren interested in careers in science, math, and engineering.
Armed with several digital cameras, HD video cameras, three cell phones, and a commercial GPS unit, Robonaut-1 was launched from Chiefland, Florida, at 3:50 p.m. ET—about an hour before the space shuttle's slated liftoff.
According to the Challenger Center, the balloon rose to just over 20.8 miles (33.5 kilometers) before popping, leaving the payload to parachute back to Earth.
(See more pictures of the space shuttle Discovery's launch, snapped from a public viewing point in Florida.)