Near Space: The Place for Far Out Hobbies

Near Space is a quickly booming interest of many.  Near Space is the shore of space that is just before the official definition of outer space.  It is at about 328,000 feet above sea level where the magic of Near Space happens and there are many who find their hobby within that realm.

Vehicles that travel in Near Space, whether they are ones of hobby or professional research ones, are called nearcrafts.  Rockets that sub-orbit, balloons that are of the high-altitude variety and even camera devices that take photos and videos of the area are all among the things of interest available for enthusiasts of Near Space to take part in.

In Near Space is also called the upper atmosphere.  In this area, ultraviolet rays are extremely strong. So radiation is a huge factor.  There is also a vacuum of 99% or sometimes even greater so exploration is quite challenging which is part of what makes hobbies in Near Space very appealing to many.

Some make a hobby of sending balloons up into Near Space, high altitude balloons that contain packages which may include a camera or a device that sends back data.  Others are into sending hobby rockets up into Near Space.  While this area is of great interest to the military, weather scientists and is used for scientific research as well, it is still possible for the average person to take part in hobbies that involve the upper atmosphere and it’s actually not difficult nor expensive to acquire the credentials to do so.

Hobbyists have different goals in mind when playing in Near Space.  Some are enthralled with space and the hobby is an alternative to actually going to outer space as many would have loved to have been in a space career.  Others have a fascination with the weather and send their devices up to study such.  Still others love the power and mystery that the upper atmosphere brings with it.

While the cost of this hobby can quickly get astronomical, there are options that can be considered.  You can actually ride “piggy back” on someone else’s device if you do your homework and find someone willing to let you (for a fee, of course).  For many, this option provides the same thrill of going into Near Space but at a fraction of the cost.

As hobbies in the Near Space real continue to grow, so do the possibilities.  You can often combine your efforts with that of a fellow enthusiast and cut the price in half.  Or, join a team and the cost is cut even more.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.  If you do not have the means to get into the hobby yourself, even at the level of being part-owner of a space vehicle or balloon, you can still enjoy it by watching the races or observations.  There are a growing number of organized events that you can find through searching online and you can interact with people who share your enthusiasm.

For those of us who are fascinated with space, Near Space gives us the opportunity to do things that we cannot do in true outer space.  It is a place that is close enough to play in yet far enough away that it is full of mystery.  If Near Space is beaconing you…answer the call.  Find your place in Near Space!

Learning About Astronomy: “Our Space”

I first got acquainted with astronomy in my first year of college, Astronomy 101.  Not being very good at science topics nor at math, I opted for astronomy to take the easy way out.  But astronomy quickly became a passion for me.

Have you ever looked up at the sky and became full of wonder as you observed the stars?  That is the feeling, magnified one hundred fold, of taking a closer look at space.  The planets, the stars and all that space entails is yours for the taking when you peak through the eyes of a high powered telescope and actually get a grip of what is out there.

For most who are serious about astronomy, you will want to get a telescope that can help you to see the glorious stars and planets in the sky.  You can purchase a very inexpensive one or go all out and spend a fortune if you really want to get a good view.  Many chose to start small and work their way up to more professional equipment.

It is important to choose a great place to look.  If you have access to a spot that is away from the city lights, that is optimal.  Rural areas at higher elevations offer the best of the best in star gazing so take advantage if you live in an area as such.  If you don’t have good access, you might want to plan a special trip so that you can experience space at its finest because the further you are away from distracting lights and the higher up you can be, the better.

It is fun to look but it is even more fun to study up on it.  Finding out about the constellations and the names of the stars will add interest to your hobby.  There are maps of the stars that explain what is what that will guide you in knowing what you are viewing and make it all the more fun.

Learning about Greek mythology enhances this hobby.  Can you find the formations that ancient men worshiped?  When the Greeks set out to create calendars, a spark of interest in astronomy was ignited.  As time progressed, a love affair began with countless stories originating from space like that of Pegasus who was, as mythology goes, gifted a spot in heaven by the god Zeus.  Orion is another Greek constellation.  Orion is an unusually bright and distinct constellation and the story behind it is of the hunter Orion who was extremely handsome and skillful.

Astrology is the combination of astronomy and pseudo-science, the belief that the stars and planets and the activities of space make a direct impact on the way humans behave.  The way the stars were aligned upon a person’s birth and how they line up each day, is thought to play a very important role in their behavior.  Many people turn to a horoscope to find out such things but it is all based on astronomy in the long run.  It is interesting to spot the constellations that are important in astronomy like the scorpion outline with the red stinger being the star Antares.  That is what prompted the sign of Scorpio.  There are many other intriguing astrology based figures in the sky as well and it is interesting to find them and hear the story behind them whether you believe in astrology or not.

Astronomy can be a great hobby whether you just dabble in it for an occasional meeting under the stars or if you go so far as to spend millions on your equipment and design a space room for yourself as many have done in the past.  It is fun that can be shared by young and old alike.  The hobby has been around for hundreds of years and the instruments are constantly being improved upon to make them more powerful, accessible and even more affordable.  Astronomy is a great hobby that is perfect to pursue if you would like to know a little more about “our space”.

Robotics: Playing With Big Boy Toys


Have you been thinking of getting into robotics as a hobby?  If so, you will be in good company.  Robotics is a bobby that is quickly growing and it’s not a wonder as to why.  It’s great fun and very interesting too!

You don’t have to be a scientist to enjoy the wonderful world of robotics.  While years ago you would have been required to be one in order to acquire robotics and the parts and accessories needed for them, not so any longer.  You can freely purchase your robot and all else you need online or even from a hobby shop.

You don’t even have to be super smart to do this hobby although that is a major misconception people tend to have when it comes to robotics.  Everything about the hobby has been simplified.  Instructions are made even easier by tips and tricks that are posted online to make this hobby a breeze.  Of course you can always take it to the next level and pump it up a notch by becoming as advanced as you please which could require a bit of knowledge but to what degree you do so  it entirely up to you.

There are competitions that the enthusiasts can compete in which make the hobby even more run.  You can compete in sports robotics, like soccer matches, or race them against one another.  The sky is the limit when it comes to finding out whose robot is the best.  It’s something that many robotics fans take quite seriously.

Many have gotten their start in the hobby by participating in a school event where robotics were used.  Usually, somewhere down the line in school, students are exposed to at least one crash course in robotics and it’s not unusual for a competition to be held.  That’s the time that many attribute to the beginning of their love affair with robotics.

There are competitions in schools and there are professional competitions too.  Because the hobby is growing, the number of competitions are too.  Many are quite specialized these days.  Categories usually include manned and unmanned races or performances.

One of the most popular competition was the DARPA Grand Challenge where unmanned vehicles were raced across the desert.  The purse was $1,000,000 but no one was able to claim it.  The challenge was valuable for research though and spurred some improvements in military robotics.

How did robotics get started?  Simple repetitive motions were the most the first robotics could offer but that was a great feat for the time and soon they were designed to do more and more until now, robotics can do most anything and…they’re smart too.

If you are wanting to get started in the hobby, there are a good number of sites you can access online that will help you decide what area to you like to begin in.  You may like racing driverless vehicles or you may want to lean towards the space realm.  Once you decide, you can then figure out how complex you would like your new hobby to be and go from there.  You may also want to consider the price tag and do a bit of research in that area as some robotics are more expensive as a rule.  There are plenty that are fairly inexpensive and tons that cost an arm and a leg, literally.

The hobby of robotics is addicting.  But it is all done in good fun and is enjoyed by young and old alike.  It’s a fantastic way to bond with children, grandchildren and friends and is also an excellent way to get to know people by sharing the same interests.  If you are considering robotics as your next hobby, you will no doubt love it as millions of others do.  Robotics,…it’s smart play that lets adults have a great excuse to be kids once again.

Microcontrollers: We’ve Got Brains!


For those who really want to play around with big boy toys, there are robotics.  For those that want to not only play with them, but want to fully control them too, there are microcontrollers.  Microcontrollers are the brains that make robotics tick and they are what makes it all happen.

The robotic revolution is upon us.  From use in schools, hobbies, practical purposes and even in the medical realm, robotics are indeed the future.  And what makes the robotics run?  The brains.  The microcontrollers inside the robotic shells are what ultimately make them tick.

Not only are microcontrollers the brains in robotic devices, they are used in many other areas too.  They store memory such as in flash-drives and are found in remote controls too.  Appliances, toys, power tools and even automobile engine control systems have microcontrollers.  They are powerful yet small and run a myriad of machines, appliances and systems that you most likely use on a daily basis.

It is amazing to learn how microcontrollers work.  There are those that only use a four-bit word system and have very low frequencies.  They use little power and will function when prompted.  Others have higher speeds and power and are designed to be in performance role so that they are ready to roll at all times.

You may have heard the term “computer chip”.  A computer chip is a microcontroller that is the brain of a computer, so to speak.  While the first microprocessor was a 4-bit Intel 4004 and was launched in 1971, they have come a long way since then and the near future is expected to hold some even more amazing progress yet to come.

The technology has advanced but the price of microcontrollers continues to fall which is fabulous for those who are wanting to use them for hobby purposes.  There are many hobbies that use them but one of the most popular is robotics.  Microcontrollers is what makes a robot smart.  It controls them and when you control the microcontroller, you are truly in charge of your toy.

Microcontrollers aren’t just used in robot type toys.  They are also used in remote controlled planes, cars, boats and such.  Often those use a servo.  A servo is different than a motor in an RC toy because you don’t control the actual velocity or torque which is how a motor operates.  Instead, you have control of the motor yourself with positional control.  It is certainly an edge that RC hobby enthusiasts are finding more and more interesting.  Sales in microcontrollers for these type vehicles are growing constantly.

As people become more serious about their hobbies, they are leaning to microcontrollers to control the brains of the toys themselves.  In the same way, microcontrollers are being put into more than ever typical household items and in the cars that we drive, the phones that we talk on and just about every other thing that we come into contact with these days.  Microcontrollers…they are the brains behind the control.

Amateur Radio High Altitude Ballooning: Excitement is in the Air!

For those of us who dreamed of being rocket scientists but never quite made it, Amateur Radio High Altitude Ballooning is heaven sent, literally.  Since the invention of ARHAB in 1967 and the re-launching of the pastime in 1987, the hobby has sky rocketed and as an enthusiast myself, I could not be happier for the new found excitement.

What exactly is Amateur Radio High Altitude Ballooning, or ARHAB?  It is, simply put, sending a balloon into space with a parachute for recovery with at least one package aboard that includes a radio transmitter which tracks the flight.

The trackers are perhaps the most intriguing part of the set up.  There are many to choose from.  The most common is the Automatic Position Reporting System tracker that changes to a digital radio transmission when it communicates with the Global Positioning System receiver.  Some though, use a beacon that works off an analog system and still others transmit slow data like Morse code and PSK31.  Of course to transmit through these technologies, you do have to have an amateur license unless you operate under a non-amateur transmitter.

Other packages that might be sent along for the ride are sensors, cameras and instruments that log data that can be examined.  Amateur television is also sometimes sent which is really awesome to watch because it transmits real footage of the journey.  BalloonSats are quite popular too.

The typical balloon used is a weather balloon which is made of latex and endures for around 3 hours.  There has been a rush of other types of balloons like zero-pressure balloons, super-pressure balloons and other fancy versions but the weather balloon remains the most dependable.

The Great Plains Super Launch is the Super Bowl for Amateur Radio High Altitude Ballooning.  It happens once a year and is a celebration of enthusiasts both on site and online.  Those who cannot physically attend can follow the balloons online.

So where exactly do these balloons go?  Near space is the term coined to entail the atmosphere that is over 60,000 feet but not as high as the formal term of space which is 328,000 feet up.  In Near Space, there is a 99% vacuum and sometimes even greater which makes for a temperature of -60 as an average.  It is an atmosphere that remains within the ozone layer so it is exposed to ultraviolet radiation making the trips even trickier.  In fact, radiation in this cosmic area is 100 times more than on earth at sea level.  Balloons are filled with helium or hydrogen in order to reach this area of Near Space.

Why do enthusiasts send balloons up into Near Space?  There are many reasons people get involved in this hobby.  Some, like myself, have been intrigued in doing so since childhood.  It is just exciting to some to launch an object into this mysterious atmosphere and to pilot the feat from start to finish and to observe the material that is received back.  Others are more into doing various experiments and research the feedback for the purpose of their studies.

Don’t knock it until you try it!  Unless you have personally piloted a ship that has gone from a mere balloon on ground to the wild blue yonder, you have never experienced the childhood wonder coupled with the powerful feeling that any rocket scientist must possess.  It’s uplifting, enlightening and educational all at the same time.  If you have the slightest bit of interest, you might visit the Great Plains Super Launch or at least log on and follow the balloons without ever leaving your house.  Amateur Radio High Altitude Ballooning…excitement is in the air!

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