What is Earth to Sky Calculus?
Earth to Sky Calculus is group of kids doing cutting-edge science in a little-explored realm 100,000 feet above our heads: the stratosphere. About once a week, they send their experiments aloft using helium balloons to search for new life forms in the stratosphere and to monitor the effects of cosmic radiation on Earth’s atmosphere. Their efforts are 100% crowdfunded. Small business, non-profits, and small businesses “own” this research and are responsible for its advance.
The club was formed in 2010. It grew out of a Calculus and Quantum Physics class that Dr. Tony Phillips had been teaching to his daughter and classmates since 5th grade. By the time these students entered high school in 2010, they were tired of being lectured to and wanted to explore Nature in a different, more hands-on way.
So they began launching helium balloons. At first no one in the group, not even Dr. Phillips, knew how to do this. They taught themselves through trial and error, flying increasingly larger balloons high into the stratosphere over the remote Sierra Nevada mountains where they live. Rookie mistakes and the “freedom to fail” led to the best kind of unscripted experiential learning: the kind that cannot be found in textbooks.
Fast forward to 2015: The group has launched more than 100 research-grade balloons, and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus are widely recognized as leading experts in this type of exploration. Even NASA has visited the group’s launch site near Bishop, California to observe and learn from their procedures. Recent graduates of Earth to Sky have been accepted at Princeton, Berkeley, Stanford, the Maritime Academy, Babson College, Kings College (London) and other top-notch schools. Their college success is particularly remarkable considering the tiny size and remote location of their home town.
When Earth to Sky launches a helium balloon, it ascends to a realm often called “the edge of space.” At altitudes of 100,000 feet or more, the noontime sky fades to black, stars pop out, and meteors can be seen in broad “daylight.” Air pressure drops to 1% of sea level; and temperatures fall to -70 C or cooler. Meanwhile, as the surroundings darken and chill, the dose rate of cosmic radiation increases to 100x Earth-normal. These environmental conditions are akin to the surface of the planet Mars.
The balloons carry payloads focusing on three kinds of research
- Monitoring cosmic rays in the atmosphere.
- Stress-testing Mars microbles.
- Developing a biological radiation sensor.
(See our Research page for complete details.)
How do we pay for all this? Earth to Sky Calculus has no grants or government support. Each and every one of our flights is paid for by small contributions usually amounting to no more than $500—the minimum cost to launch a flight. Sponsors come from all walks of life: retirees, small business owners, parents who want to inspire their own children. In exchange for a $500 donation, Earth to Sky will fly a birthday card, Christmas card, business logo, or small experiment to the edge of space.