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By Jennie Bartlemay on September 25th, 2009

Whenever possible, I do it myself. I try to improvise or build what I need to accomplish a goal. For example, when I needed a headboard for my twin bed, two pallets (fastened securely together), some batting, fabric and a staple gun did the job. Rather than buying a fancy worktable for my too-tiny dining room, I bought a piece of countertop off Craigslist and two cheap bookshelves. Voila--a kitchen counter with bonus storage space.

But none of this compares to these guys. NASA could easily spend millions, maybe even billions, to put a camera into space, but these guys take the cake. Via Wired:

The two students (from MIT, of course) put together a low-budget rig to fly a camera high enough to photograph the curvature of the Earth. Instead of rockets, boosters and expensive control systems, they filled a weather balloon with helium and hung a Styrofoam… cooler underneath to carry a cheap Canon A470 compact camera. Instant hand warmers kept things from freezing up and made sure the batteries stayed warm enough to work.

Of course, all this would be pointless if the guys couldn’t find the rig when it landed, so they dropped a prepaid GPS-equipped cell phone inside the box for tracking. Total cost, including duct tape? $148.

The package reached nearly 18 miles high and took 40 minutes to hit the ground after the balloon popped. Granted, 18 miles may not be all that high--the International Space Station rocked an altitude of about 215 miles yesterday--but it's still quite an accomplishment. They have pics and details at their site,

So next time you decide you need an air conditioner, a stylish bookcase, a WiFi antenna, or an iPod dock, take some inspiration from the MIT guys. See if you can do it yourself for way less than retail. / CC BY-ND 2.0