Video: Young students send “Blood and Fire” on a Near Space journey

Author Marcus Alexander helped students from The Baird Primary Academy in East Sussex, UK send one of his Puffin fantasy books on a near-space adventure. The goal was to promote literacy and creativity with the youngsters. This video shows the launch, flight, and retrieval at sea of the payload, which include a camera that captured scenes from the flight.

Here are miscellaneous facts and comments about the project and the flight:

The Goal:

To send ‘Blood & Fire’ into space via a weather balloon to further boost students interest in literacy, creativity and the power of imagination.

To record the project and capture footage of the book as it reaches peak altitude.

To tie the act of sending a book into space into a school project that spans multiple key subjects: English, Maths, Physics, Geography, Information Technology, Engineering and PSHE.

To show students that if they can overcome the obstacles of sending a book into space they can then apply this same drive and application of common sense to overcome all future hurdles and barriers they might encounter in quest of their own dreams and ambitions.

Katherin Weeks, Vice Principal:

At The Baird Primary Academy, we are willing to go ‘above and beyond’ to ensure that Every Child Succeeds.  Give us seven minutes of your time and we’ll show you an epic journey, including:  inspired students, a Puffin fantasy book that’s out of this world, an adventure across the channel to recover the payload before it sank and, most importantly, the impact of our determination in raising pupils’ progress rates in reading.”

Marcus Alexander’s role:

Acrobatic author Marcus Alexander has been supporting the Baird Primary Academy as a Patron of Reading. Upon hearing one of the students remark,  ‘When I read Keeper of the Realms I feel as though I’m taken out of this world…’ Marcus and the school Leadership Team thought this was the perfect opportunity to create a project that would tie students’ key subjects of Maths, Physics, Geography, Engineering and IT to the importance of literacy and creativity.

“Above all this project #CreativityTakesFlight is a drive for reading. By sending a book into space students have reinforced the importance of literacy and the principle that books can inspire dreams.”

The Baird Primary Principal, Ms Tenn:

‘3 out of 10 girls do not own a book at home, and 4 out of 10 boys do not own a book at home. This project is helping make reading exciting and highlight the importance of where literacy can take you – literally into outer space.’

The Reward:

As a ‘thank you’ for all the students’ hard work and diligence they signed pages of ‘Blood and Fire’ allowing them to say that their names have travelled to space.

The Event:

Students deployed a weather balloon containing ‘Blood & Fire’. The balloon reached an altitude of 35,000m before bursting. After 3 hours of total flight time the payload landed (splashed!) into the channel several miles off the Dover coastline. The project lead teacher, Roz Adie and Marcus Alexander raced to recover the payload before it sank and only managed to do so after hailing a speed launch from the Dover Sea Safari. Students were thrilled to find out that their names had successfully been to near-space and back.

The Project:

Students worked collaboratively to organise a working balloon kit that carried a 1,000 gram retrievable payload to an altitude of 30,000 to 40,000 metres. The payload contained book, camera, GPS systems and auto-deploy parachute.

Space & Aviation:

Space starts at the Karman line, 100 kilometres (62 miles) above the Earth’s sea level. We weren’t able to break that barrier but we did reach the stratosphere and ‘near-space’ altitudes of 35,000m. At this height we did manage to record ‘Blood & Fire’ floating beneath the balloon with the ‘black of space’ visible in the background. With students’ uptake in the engineering required for this project there has also been an increase of interest in aviation and aeronautics.

The Footage:

The day of the event was incredibly hot and unfortunately we picked up condensation on the camera at higher altitudes. To compensate for this we’ve combined footage from both the ‘official’ launch but also from the test launch that was done earlier in a central England location. (We were keen to test functionality and to avoid losing the cameras in a wet-landing.)


In conjunction with the Academy’s Improvement Plan, the project produced phenomenal results. Over the year literacy rates soared:

* 93% year 6 students made expected progress in reading

* 89% year 5 students made expected progress in reading

* Overall The Baird Primary Academy saw a 24% increase in reading compared to the previous year’s published figures.

 Web resources:

Full project details: 

The Baird Academy:

Keeper of the Realms: 

Acrobatic and adrenaline author video:

 Technical info:

It was a big project and although it was really nothing more sophisticated than releasing a balloon there was still an incredible amount of planning and organisation required!

We used a 12 metre diameter weather balloon that weighed 2,000 grams producing an ascent rate of 5.5-7mps allowing us to pack a 1000 gram payload.

The payload container was a polystyrene box that added a degree of insulation allowing camera and GPS systems to function at low temperatures. (We added two hand warmers for additional heat.)

Two GPS systems were used to increase recovery chances and overcome redundancy rates. (Allowing us to recover the payload even when it landed in the channel!)

Burst rate and flight predictions were mapped through these (very cool!) websites:

Burst rate: and

Flight predictor:

(Although, in true British fashion weather forecasts were slightly off!)

Permissions were sought through the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) more info here:

Photos of where ‘The Martian’ Mark Watney traveled + “Red Planet” miniseries on Mars colonization to debut in 2016

As mentioned here several times, Andy Weir’s book The Martian is a terrifically readable and scientifically accurate account of an astronaut’s struggles to survive alone on Mars. It will be out as a movie in the fall but you should read it first. Here are beautiful photos of the locations on Mars that the character Mark Watney traversed during his excursions:  Real places the main character in ‘The Martian’ went on Mars – Business Insider.


National Geographic will sponsor a miniseries dramatization on the settling of the Red Planet:

National Geographic Channel, Imagine Entertainment and RadicalMedia
Embark On A Quest To Mars In A Groundbreaking, Global Miniseries Event:
Red Planet

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., July 29, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Of all the planets in our solar system, none has captured our collective imagination like Mars — a mysterious, indelible part of our zeitgeist. And now National Geographic Channel (NGC); Academy Award- and Emmy-winning producers Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Michael Rosenberg of Imagine Entertainment; and Justin Wilkes and Dave O’Connor of RadicalMedia have joined forces to launch us into outer space with the global event series Red Planet.

Slated to premiere on the National Geographic Channel in 171 countries and 44 languages in 2016, Red Planet — which is set in 2032 and the present day — will be a unique hybrid of scripted and unscripted elements. The series will tell the epic story of the thrilling quest to colonize Mars and the first manned mission in 2032 with dramatic scripted drama and feature film-caliber visual effects, intercut with documentary verité and interviews from present-day scientists and innovators who are leading the research and development of space technology, preparing the way for our 2032 mission.

“With Imagine and RadicalMedia, we plan to tell a deeply human story of the first manned mission to Mars, that is cinematic in both scope and storytelling,” said Courteney Monroe, CEO, National Geographic Channels. “We hope to spark the curiosity of viewers by not only transporting them to another planet, but by embedding them with today’s leaders who are revolutionizing space technology.”

“We stand on the grandest stage of all time — the dark void of interplanetary space — with the brightest 21st century visionaries to light our way,” said Grazer. “By blending awe-inspiring imagery and narrative with present-day footage and interviews, we hope that Red Planet will change the way we see our place in the cosmos and the mysteries that lie beyond.”

“As humans, we possess boundless curiosities and an unparalleled spirit of adventure,” said Howard. “These intrepid explorers — following in the footsteps of pioneers before them — will spark our imaginations as we weave together the stories of both the past and the present Mars visionaries, along with the historical perspective on Mars.”

“How we’ll get to Mars, why we’re going and what happens when we get there are questions playing out in the minds of today’s greatest innovators, technologists and dreamers,” added RadicalMedia President Wilkes. “Our cameras will be there to capture the cutting-edge technology, design, science and ideas at the cusp of transforming not only Mars, but our own world as well.”