Lost and Found: Colin Rich's <em>PopStar</em> journeys to near space and is recovered on the Canadian coastline

The weather conditions weren’t ideal, Colin Rich recalled in a recent phone interview.


The artist planned to release one of his DIY camera-balloons at PopTech 2010. In preparation for the balloon’s release, he had installed two secondhand digital cameras inside a Styrofoam mannequin head he’d dubbed PopStar, attaching the head to a homemade high-altitude weather balloon with a bit of duct tape and some string. The plan was that once in flight, the cameras would regularly collect videos and still images until, around 125,000 feet, the balloon would burst and deploy a parachute. Rich hoped PopStar would safely land within 100 miles of the central Maine launch site but gusting winds threatened to whisk it hundreds of miles away.

Rich launched the device and hoped for the best.

“Something went wrong near the apex [of the flight]. Maybe there was a gust of wind or the parachute deployed too early,” Rich recalled. When he recovered the PopStar rig in a blueberry field using the GPS that had been attached to the contraption, he only found the mannequin head and one of the cameras. The parachute as well as the base — and the second camera within it — were missing. Somehow, the rig had fallen apart in midair.

Colin presented images from the one recovered camera on the PopTech stage “We were at a conference on necessary failures so it seemed to fit the theme. I figured the [second] camera was lost forever.”

Then, in early December, Rich received a Facebook message from St. Andrew’s Oceanographic Institute researcher Josh Nunn: I have the missing camera!

Rich learned that the camera had landed off the coast of New Brunswick, Canada, floating in the Bay of Fundy for several weeks until researchers fished it out of the water. The external case was battered. Salt and battery acid had corroded everything. The camera was ruined but the camera’s memory card was still intact!

It would have have been thrown away except that Nunn noticed that the card contained footage – and Rich’s name embedded in the files. After finding a Huffington Post article on Rich, Nunn realized that these images might be important so he found him on Facebook.

Within a week, Rich received a box containing the missing media. Some of the footage had been corrupted, but Rich has been able to salvage much of the material, including this video.

To find its way back to Rich, the camera had traveled 24 miles into the air, over 150 miles across North America, and then across cyberspace. “Out of the sheer vastness of space, someone had tracked down the missing camera and found me through the Internet,” Rich laughed. “I think that’s the really cool thing to come out of this.”

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