Watch: A GoPro launched into space in 2013 returns with extraordinary Grand Canyon footage

A long way down.
A long way down.
Image: Bryan Chan/courtesy of Imgur
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Two years after floating up through the stratosphere, then coming back to land in the middle of the Arizona desert, a GoPro camera has been found and returned to its owners—with some unbelievable footage.

In June 2013, Bryan Chan and several of his friends—all students at Stanford University—launched a camera attached to a weather balloon up into the edge of space. They also attached an AT&T-connected smartphone to the balloon so they’d be able to track where it landed using the phone’s GPS. Though they planned the launch specifically so that the camera would land in an area with good cell phone coverage, the coverage map they were relying on was inaccurate, Chan said in a post on Reddit. Thus, the group never received a signal from the phone when it fell back to Earth, and they had no idea where it landed. The footage seemed to be lost forever.

Until it wasn’t.

“TWO YEARS LATER [sic], in a twist of ironic fate, a woman who works at AT&T was on a hike one day and spotted our phone in the barren desert,” Chan wrote. “She brings it to an AT&T store, and they identify my friend’s SIM card. We got the footage and data a few weeks later!”

The footage on the GoPro was worth the two-year wait. The camera reached as high as 19 miles (30 km) above the ground and traveled for 98 minutes, before eventually landing about 50 miles from the launch site. The camera revealed some stunning views of the Arizona desert—including the Grand Canyon—from the Earth’s stratosphere:

If you’re wondering whether launching a balloon into space could create the potential for dangerous collisions with air traffic, it certainly can. Chan and his friends registered with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the FAA responded with a time and location that they were permitted to safely launch their balloon.