What you are about to read is an amazing tale of ingenuity, hard work and determination by some of the finest middle and high school students in the country.
When a group of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy’s science and engineering club students had an idea to send a can of Coca-Cola into outer space, there were many doubters.
Students at this school known for achievements in the classroom and the lab wanted to film it for a YouTube video so everyone could see their success.
Georgia State MBA student Ted Neill stepped in to help.
"It came out of brainstorming, adds Neill. "It came up and seemed so audacious and so hard to do, but if we could do it, we knew it would get a lot of attention."
Neill was almost as excited as the students.
“When they told me they wanted to send a camera to space, I knew I was in,” explained Neill.
Neill championed their cause and helped the students plan the mission and raise some money.
The group raised $800 online through a crowdfunding campaign. That $800 would allow for two attempts at this milestone.
The plan was build a space capsule and send it to 100,000 feet via a weather balloon.
Here is their plan as relayed to Coca-Cola.
Their “space capsule” was made using a Styrofoam container. Inside, a thermos insulated a GPS-enabled cell phone to protect it from the sub-zero temperatures it would encounter. A digital video camera pointed at an outstretched can of Coca-Cola, which was fastened to a ruler and a small strip of plexiglass.
How would they know it would reach the 100,000 feet mark?
Well, when the helium-filled weather balloon would reach 100,000 feet, it would burst and fall back to earth, hopefully mostly intact with a video recording.
Neill said they received permission to send the weather balloon up to the edge of space.
"We had to notify the FAA and get special clearance for for weather balloons," explained Neill. "This notifies pilots in the area and they also restrict how close you can do it to an airport."
The launch went according plan. The balloon disappeared into the clouds, but the GPA on the balloon malfunctioned and the students were left wondering if it made it to 100,000 feet.
The students couldn't track the balloon and they had no idea what happened at that point.
That was until one day when when Neill received a call from a man in Oglethorpe, Ga., an hour and a half, or 90 miles from the launch site. The man said he found the capsule and the torn remains of a weather balloon on his property. He also said that a camera was still intact.
The remains of the project were mailed back to Neill, but federal agents wondered what was in this mysterious package.
“I got a call from federal agents and had to explain it was a weather balloon,” Neill said. “They asked me to come pick it up right away.”
Neill went and claimed his package and popped the card from the camera into his laptop and watched the entire voyage of the Coca-Cola can to outer space.
Neill and the students watched the footage in amazement and now you can watch the feat.
It's a great story that involves a school doing great things and a brand everyone associates with Atlanta.
"We were hoping we could get attention for our science projects here at the school," summed up Neill. "We picked Coke because it is an iconic brand and a symbol of Atlanta."
I say they succeeded.