December 8, 2008 For half a century, the friendliest face of space travel was Laika the space-dog, launched into Earth orbit aboard Sputnik II. Now Britain has challenged Laika’s supremacy by launching two teddy bears into the stratosphere. The toys, named MAT and KMS, wore space suits designed by children at the Parkside and Coleridge community colleges.
The bears were strapped to a helium weather balloon, which rose to an altitude of 100,000 feet before bursting. The total flight time was two hours and nine minutes, long enough to gather data on the effects of sub-zero conditions on the custom-designed space suits. The temperature at that altitude was -53 degrees Celsius, however, the design of the suits prevented the bears from freezing. The balloon landed 50 miles from the launch site, and the furry astronauts were successfully retrieved.
The launch is the latest experiment conducted by the students from Parkside and Coleridge Community Colleges as part of a project with Cambridge University Spaceflight society, which, as well as engaging the kids in science and engineering, aims to reduce the cost of sub-orbital space exploration. The society is currently designing a system to launch a rocket from a balloon platform to outer space for under £1,000.