Space: the final frontier ... for pranking.
When we heard the story of the MIT students who launching a camera into space for only $150, we realized that sending crazy stuff into low orbit was now within anyone's reach. All you need is a weather balloon, a digital videocamera, and enough helium to float Harry Knowles.
Saturn vs. Harry Knowles (to scale)
We enlisted the help of Will "Gigageek" Sweatman, an incredibly talented engineer and fan of ZUG, who helped us come up with the idea as well: to do the first Rickroll in space.
Rickrolling, that indomitable internet in-joke, where you promise someone an irresistible tidbit of information, then redirect them to a video of Rick Astley singing "Never Gonna Give You Up".
Rickrolling is a prank that seemingly ran its course several years ago, when Rick Astley himself Rickrolled 44 million people during the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade:
Question: how do you outdo that?
Answer: by Rickrolling the entire planet.
We would launch a space balloon which would play the Rick Astley theme to the people of Earth, just like the Vogons warning the planet before they destroyed it at the beginning of The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. If we could put a man on the moon, then surely we could put an 80's pop idol into space.
Launching Rick Astley into space sounds simple, until you try to do it. Our plan was:
- Launch the balloon, which would travel to the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere, blaring the dreadful song to the inhabitants of Earth, while taking pictures and video.
- Eventually, the helium would expand so much that the balloon would burst, plummeting back to earth, like Rick Astley's career.
- With luck, a GPS transmitter would relay where it landed, hopefully not in an ocean or prison yard. We expected winds and altitude to land the balloon many miles away from where it launched, which is why we needed to pick our launch site carefully: far away from major cities, highways, or classified military bases.
Building a device that would blast the song, reliable enough to never give us up or let us down, was the biggest challenge.
The MIT students had inspired other hobbyists to launch their own cameras into space, but no one had attempted a two-camera setup with speakers, photos, and video. The entire payload had to weigh less than four pounds to meet FAA regulations, including our GPS transmitter (generously loaned by the good folks at BrickHouse Security). And we somehow had to protect our equipment from an 80,000-foot fall.
We needed a name for our device, so we called it the "Astleyroid."
This isn't NASA, it's NASTLEY.
The Apollo 10 command and lunar modules were named "Charlie Brown" and "Snoopy." Ours were named after two pioneers of online comedy.
One of Will's more brilliant ideas was to add reflector strips. We could still see occasional glints of reflected sunlight long after the balloon was too small to see.
Will also attached a parachute, to slow the Astleyroid's descent as it plummeted to Earth.
Jay prepares to inhale enough helium to talk like a chipmunk for an entire week.
"Honey, I finally found one big enough to fit me."
"I swear, doctor, this tumor was only the size of a grape this morning."
"Let's see that friggin' clown try to make a balloon animal out of THIS thing!"
We then realized with horror that we had unwittingly created Rover from "The Prisoner"
Jay tests the balloon by seeing if it will lift a child into space
Nothing a little branding can't fix.
The triple knot: a knot in the balloon, a knot of rope around the balloon knot, and a knot of tape around the rope knot.
Preparing for launch.
We turned on the speakers, which blared Rick Astley in an endless loop. This quickly got on our nerves so that we just wanted to be rid of the thing. Covering our ears, we counted down and released the rope, knowing we might not ever see the balloon again.
But that wasn't gonna make us cry