It is two minutes of the most breathtaking views ever recorded over Oxnard. Shot with two hacked $45 eBay cameras nestled inside a stout white weather balloon swiftly lifting into the skies, on June 5, Los Angeles photographer Colin Rich launched the Pacific Star II — the balloon, insulated with duct tape and Styrofoam, was hurled with helium into the great wide open.
The cameras captured the flight in luminescent still photographs and interval video as the balloon reached its limit. At 11 miles up, the Oxnard plain dissolves into a patchwork quilt of shrinking farmland. At 19 miles, the blackness of space beckons. At 24 miles, the view is absolutely awe-inspiring. The balloon finally burst and its parachute deployed, the remains landing just northeast of Santa Paula in an olive orchard. The reaction from the press — everything from Atlantic Magazine’s “Daily Dish” to the Huffington Post and the CBS Early Show with Harry Smith — was encouraging and supportive. Occasionally, responses online grew cynical, but of course this is to be expected from the Internet. If Rich had said that water is wet, you’d have had a dozen people insisting it’s dry.
Rich chose Oxnard because, “Aesthetically speaking, the terrain was perfect — it’s very symmetrical. I knew the fields from a thousand feet would look great, and the ocean would bounce the sunlight for the exposure.” When the press seized on the angle of beauty on a budget, Rich remained modest. “I’m actually really happy that it was embraced with such positivity because it shows that people still care about space and the little blue marble that we live on. Good things tend to be overlooked or overshadowed by the bad, especially with the fast-paced mentality of the Internet. I found that for most in the U.S., it was just a small breath of fresh air in a time where everything seems to be covered in oil.” Retrieving what was left of the balloon went more smoothly than expected. “Once I calculated the approximate location, everything seemed to work out quite well. Luckily, we happened to run into the ranch hands, who graciously let us onto their land . . . if they had not been there, it would have been very difficult to get the payload.”
Everything comes from somewhere, so what was the inspiration for the launch? Rich had read about Robert Harrison, who did something similar in the U.K. That and boredom basically got Rich’s wheels turning. “My next launch will be a bit more involved. I will be running several experiments while the cameras do their own work.” Naturally, the next launch will require more funding. “People donate through Kickstarter.com, but I also have a PayPal donation tab on the Pacific Star Flight website. The goal is to raise $16,000 — this will cover travel and some pretty amazing camera and flight system gear.”
H.G. Wells once wrote, “New and stirring things are belittled because if they are not belittled the humiliating question arises, ‘Why then are you not taking part in them?’ ” With both sky and imagination the limit, and Colin Rich raising the bar, you have to ask yourself, “Why, then?”
To learn more about Colin Rich and his projects, visit www.pacificstarflight.com.