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Science Experiment: Camera Not Lost in Space
Pentax K10D records experiment for scientists testing new cosmic sensor.
Research conducted by Dr. Andrew S. Arena Jr.

The view of Oklahoma from 104,000 ft (20 miles straight up). Photo taken with a Pentax k10d DSLR attached to a sounding balloon launched by Oklahoma State University. The camera was exposed to near-vacuum pressure, and temperatures below -60F. (See arena_5's ASTRO-09 Set for more info)
source: Arena

Pentax packed in box before its first space mission.
source: Arena

Some K series Pentax cameras can boast that they've travelled farther than most of us. An experiment by Dr. Andrew S. Arena Jr., professor in Engineering, School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Deputy Director, NASA Oklahoma Space Grant Consortium and EPSCoR Oklahoma State University, lauched an experiment to measure cosmic radiation and surprisingly ended up with 536 photos recording it as well.

The University project involved researchers in aerospace engineering and physics. Their primary objective was to measure cosmic radiation with a new sensor they developed. But they also wanted to test out a new high-resolution camera system, which if successful, could be used to capture subsequent flights. They chose Pentax K10d and the Pentax DA 18-55mm AL II lens.

The Experimental Process

The trip was a rough one. The cargo, attached to a balloon tracked with a GPS, reached a peak altitude of 104,000 ft. When launched, the balloon was about 12 ft. in diameter. At its peak altitude it reached between 40-50 ft. Upon reaching that peak, the balloon bursts due to physics. The cargo then returns to the ground via parachute. According to Arena, the trauma of the balloon burst and the initial fall are quite violent until the camera system reaches the denser air and begins to slow down.

Surprisingly, the camera did not malfuction, even with the extreme cold and movement. The k10d's exposures came out despite swinging, spinning and bouncing cargo, especially after the balloon burst.

"The photographic results are a testament to the quality and ruggedness of the Pentax gear," said Arena. The camera was exposed to the harshness of the space environment-- essentially a vacuum, and temperatures of less than -60F, added Arena. The camera's only protection from pressure or temperature changes was a non-heated foam box. Particularly, the box was meant to protect the camera on impact, since the payloads hit the ground at about 22mph.

Arena said that out of more than 500 photographs, only five or six were overexposed when the camera was facing the sun. And, since the camera and lens were so cold from the extreme altitude, condensation began forming on the lens shortly before landing. While the camera and lens were soaked with condensation, it still continued to function.

Photographic Details

The team used an external trigger to fire the shutter every 15 seconds to record the experiment. All pictures were taken in PEF RAW format. TV Mode was used and set to 1/3000s in order to freeze motion. Auto ISO, and multi-segment metering were also used. Zoom was set to 18mm, and focus manual, set to infinity.

Check out the process on Arena's Flickr site at" target="_blank. (There are descriptions under each picture so you can follow the process.)