The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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CSUN student sets goal of space travel, sends camera to space

This image of Earth over California was taken by 29-year-old aerospace graduate student Ahmad Alromeadheen's hand-built space camera. Courtesy of: Ahmad Alromeadheen

For 29-year-old Ahmad Alromeadheen, the sky is not the limit.  Originally from Kuwait, Ahmad moved to the U.S. six years ago on scholarship to pursue a degree in astronomy.

After choosing California as his destination, Ahmad had to decide where to study. “I heard CSUN was the most diverse school in California, so I thought, ‘Why not?’” he said.

Although he has a great passion for astronomy, Ahmad changed his major to mechanical engineering after moving to the States.  Last fall he earned a bachelor’s degree in the field at CSUN with an emphasis on aerospace.

He has already put his knowledge to good use.  Last year he sent a camera 100,000 feet (19 miles) into the atmosphere to capture images of Earth from above.

Hand-built by Ahmad, the package consisted of a small camera, GPS device, weather balloon (for launch), parachute (for landing) and hand warmers to prevent the camera from freezing.  Ahmad housed the components in a Styrofoam ice chest and cut out holes for the camera’s lens and GPS antenna.

While the contraption may seem relatively simple, the logistics took months of careful planning.  “It required three skills: mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and programming, so the whole system could be autonomous,” said Ahmad.

In preparation for the camera’s launch Ahmad studied weather patterns, using a simulator to ensure the device wouldn’t drift too far from the launch site or get too close to major airports.

He equipped the package with a radar reflector (aluminum foil) to avoid collisions with aircrafts and made sure the entire package weighed less than four pounds to comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements.

The entire project took six months of preparation and three days to execute.  Ahmad describes those final days as intense. “I didn’t sleep at all,” he said.

On the day of the launch he thought to himself, “There are a billion things that might make this fail.  All I need now is luck.”

And luck was on his side.

At 10:00 a.m. on April 17, 2011, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco off Interstate 5, Ahmad launched his camera.  Less than five hours later the camera landed intact in a field 40 miles outside of Bakersfield, only now it contained hundreds of pictures of Earth.

Ahmad can’t seem to resist the beckoning call of the sky. He will begin a master’s program in aerospace at CSUN this spring and has made hobbies out of star gazing and, in recent years, skydiving.

“The reason I went (skydiving) the first time is because I wanted to be the chief master of the sky,” he said with a laugh.  “I want to design planes, fly them, and jump out of them.”

Ahmad has spent many nights staring into the night sky.  Although modern astronomers often sleep through the night and analyze data from their instruments the next morning, there is still plenty of wonder and mystery in the physical act of star gazing, he said.

“It (space) is the final frontier.  There’s something very magical about that.”

Ahmad believes that in the near future space travel will not only be possible for the average person, but necessary for humankind. “We need to go to space,” he said.  “We can’t put all our eggs in one basket.  And Earth is the basket.”

When asked whether he thinks he’ll ever travel in space, Ahmad replied, “It’s not a dream anymore, it’s a goal.”