The tides of Venus

Rubber chicken in space!

As the world braced itself for the large solar storm last month, one fearless rubber chicken looked danger in the eye and went to meet it head on. Armed with only a knitted space suit, Camilla took to the skies and reached the edge of space at 120,000 feet.

As she ascended to above 99% of the Earth’s atmosphere, her badge allowed the school students who launched her to get measurements of one of the strongest proton storms in years. An expert in such matters, Camilla is the mascot of NASA’s solar dynamic observatory, and the figurehead of the centre’s outreach program.

It was all in a day’s work for Camilla who is now, unlike most chickens, a seasoned aviator having flow in a T-38 training jet as well as a previous flight on a helium balloon. She even kept a cool head during the drama of the balloon exploding, sending her hurtling back to Earth.

Camilla the rubber chicken is only one of a number of unlikely space travellers of late, from Lego men to cans of beer. Part of this increase in orbital visitors has been encouraged by projects such as last year’s Hackerspace in Space. Laying down strict rules on cost and explaining the regulations, many teams took on the challenge to launch a payload to the edge of space, take a picture, and get it back down safely.

But why? I suppose the phrase ‘because we can’ springs to mind. But it should never be underestimated how inspiring projects such as these are. Be it launching a space balloon, building a basic computer, or learning to extract DNA for yourself. In an ever technological society, we need as many people as possible, from 5 to 105, to be engaged and excited about scientific achievements.

And as a final note, an Austrian man plans to take a leaf out of Camilla’s book and is using a space balloon to make the highest ever free-fall jump. Aiming to jump from the edge of space, Felix Baumgartner needs to wear a specially designed spacesuit to survive the low pressure and cold. Now that’s taking science to the extremes!