STOCKTON, CA - Retired astronaut Jose Hernandez has amazing stories to share after flying on a shuttle to the international space station. He sounded just as enthusiastic talking about a balloon filled with helium, lifting 100 thousand feet into space.
"I knew it was going to go up. I was nervous about taking pictures. Would it do what it's supposed to do," he said.
Hernandez and his aerospace consultant company, Tierra Luna, were in the Nevada desert recently sending that balloon and several experimental devices called cansats miles into the air.
"It's a cheap way of getting experiments done, without actually going to space. On the way up, they take measurements, see temperatures changing, take very nice pictures of the curvature of the earth," said Hernandez.
At just over 100 thousand feet, the balloon popped and with a parachute attached, the platform containing can-sized devices returned to earth in 24 minutes. A GPS helped Hernandez and his team locate the platform about 30 miles from where it lifted off.
Hernandez said an important part of his current job is helping young people get interested in the fields of engineering and aerospace. Students from University of the Pacific in Stockton and from Puebla University in Mexico helped develop and execute the experiments. The next steps include more durable cubesats that could reach the space station, and eventually be launched into orbit.
"I have an obligation to the community to reach out to kids and get them interested in space exploration. This is a hands-on way of doing it. You can't get any more hands on than this," said Hernandez.