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  Editorial: Time to pop space balloon meme

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Author Topic:   Editorial: Time to pop space balloon meme
Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 27327
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 11-15-2010 09:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This editorial by my long-time colleague and friend Jeff Foust, editor of The Space Review, sums up my own feelings on this topic exactly. I've excerpted some of Jeff's points below, but I encourage you to read the entire column.

The Space Review: It's time to pop the space balloon meme

..the "paper spaceplane" seems to be the latest twist on what appears to be an increasingly common phenomenon: flying cameras to high altitudes in balloons, taking pictures of the Earth below and dark sky above, and proclaiming to have flown in, or at least taken pictures of, space.

...the problem is not with the people actually flying the balloons. These are fun projects that, for a modest investment in money (and perhaps a larger investment in time), can result in stunning photos; they're efforts that by no means should be discouraged. And many of the projects make it clear they don't consider their efforts spaceflight...

The problem is not with projects, but with the media coverage. Take a picture showing a slightly curved, blue-and-white horizon and black sky, and you must be in space, the reasoning must go...

This could be dismissed as nothing more than a minor annoyance -- yet another example of the media getting it wrong -- but for two things. One is that these simple, inexpensive amateur projects are often, if wrongly, contrasted with much more expensive space agency programs.

...the danger is that coverage like this builds up a perception of a spendthrift agency that spends hundreds of millions to provide something that ingenious amateurs do on "beer money budgets".

...the second problem with this coverage is that it may lower the bar of space too far...

music_space
Member

Posts: 1050
From: Canada
Registered: Jul 2001

posted 11-15-2010 12:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for music_space   Click Here to Email music_space     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Let's say that I unexpectedly found myself -- as part of a nighttime dream, for instance -- with such a vista in front of me, I'd say, too, that I was probably in space.

Of course, if I'd look up and found out that I'm suspended to a balloon, I'd change my mind, knowing that there has to be enough gas around to provide lift through buoyancy.

Point is, hasn't the definition of the threshold of space always been contentious? Albeit a good journalist should feel compelled to quote the generally accepted definition(s) in a situation like this, it's expected of a average citizen to think "If it looks like space, it must be space".

Of course, the one threshold definition which is harder to smudge is the altitude at which you can sustain orbit for any reasonable lenght of time without reboost.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 27327
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 11-15-2010 12:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by music_space:
...it's expected of a average citizen to think "If it looks like space, it must be space".
Jeff touches on this as well...
What's fascinating to people is not that they're pictures of space, but that they're pictures of Earth from (near) space. They are a reminder of our place in the universe: a blue orb in an inky void...

If properly described, these images are not low-cost competitors to NASA spacecraft (as some media reports try to claim) but instead appetizers for the "real thing": actual flights into space, suborbitally or orbitally. If you think those views from weather balloons are great, just imagine the view from 100 kilometers on a suborbital hop or the ever-changing view from low Earth orbit...

moorouge
Member

Posts: 1490
From: U.K.
Registered: Jul 2009

posted 11-15-2010 02:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think it's time to remember the old press adage - there's no such thing as bad publicity.

It seems to me that what the complaint is about is the standard of reporting. So what? The 'bad' reporting in the Daily Telegraph reached a far greater readership than the 'good' reporting in Space Review. So which has the greater value in making the general public aware of space? I think the former. They will remember the pictures and that some amateurs took them. To them, the technical details and quality do not matter. Just that it was done.

The bar has not been lowered. There is no bar to lower. That Joe Public is aware of space, no matter how it is brought to his attention, has to be a good thing. Who knows, he might even consider the value of having a space programme the next time he casts a vote.

AJ
Member

Posts: 509
From: Plattsburgh, NY, United States
Registered: Feb 2009

posted 11-15-2010 10:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for AJ   Click Here to Email AJ     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If it gets just one person interested in science (such as HOW and WHY this works) then what's the harm? I think if a person wants to complain about modern journalism and rampant inaccuracies, there are far more issues that have a significant effect on human life that one could focus on.

Fezman92
Member

Posts: 1030
From: New Jersey, USA
Registered: Mar 2010

posted 03-21-2011 08:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fezman92   Click Here to Email Fezman92     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have read about how people are making little hot air balloons, attaching cameras and GPSs to them, sending them up, taking photos, and after getting it back, claim that their camera or balloon has gone to space or the edge of space. Do those claims have any validity?

I plan on doing one of those projects over the summer and I want to know what to tell people after mine (hopefully) lands successfully.

Editor's note: Threads merged.

moorouge
Member

Posts: 1490
From: U.K.
Registered: Jul 2009

posted 03-22-2011 01:57 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Fezman92:
I plan on doing one of those projects over the summer and I want to know what to tell people after mine (hopefully) lands successfully.
You tell them that your enterprise has successfully reached the lower fringes of space; that as an amateur it taught you a lot; that you hope that your enthusiasm for space in all its aspects because of your balloon flight rubs off on a few people and makes them take an interest in Man's 'final frontier'; and finally, and perhaps the most important, that you set yourself a target and achieved your goal.

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