Near Space

Space, from $400 round-trip

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It’s a timeless image: The Earth’s horizon, a slice of near-incandescent blue, set off delicately against the immense blackness of space.

It’s something NASA, with its multi-million dollar space projects, might be proud of.

But this photograph was taken by a 20-year-old San Francisco-based entrepreneur. It cost about $400. And like a lot of pictures that make it to social news site Reddit’s home page, there’s a story behind it.

Greg Intermaggio took the picture with a point and shoot camera he attached to a weather balloon. Last Tuesday, he and his coworker, Shumit DasGupta, launched the balloon about 90,000 feet into the atmosphere. That’s not exactly past the official boundary of space (about 320,000 feet) but, still, at roughly three times the height of three Mt. Everest, it’s a lot higher than most people’s pet science projects ever reach.

Intermaggio said the pictures came out pretty much as he expected. But he still couldn’t help but get excited.

“It was just so cool,” Intermaggio told the Daily Dot. “I thought the pictures were pretty fantastic.”

Intermaggio runs a Bay Area business called Techsplosion, which uses hands-on methods to teach kids science. The weather balloon was a proof of concept -- Intermaggio is planning a two-day camp for children and parents this weekend, where he’ll provide materials and instructions on how to build their own near-space weather balloon.

But it was also an attempt to stir up some publicity for his business. And to do that, he didn’t turn to the local TV news station or newspaper. He turned to Reddit.

Intermaggio posted the image to the site’s main image forum, r/pics, on Monday. He said he was “pretty confident” it would be popular. And he was right. It quickly shot to the site’s front page.

As the post began to climb, Intermaggio added a link to his blog.

For a business that employs just five people, it’s an incredibly smart (if indirect) way to get the word out.

And it seems to be working: Intermaggio said at least two people signed up for the weekend program after hearing about it on Reddit.

But if you live in the Bay Area, there’s a better way to see if it was a success. Take a look into the sky on Sunday morning, and keep on out for weather balloons soaring towards space.