A former NASA engineer has set the all-time height record for dropping an egg without breaking it – by launching the egg into space and returning it safely to Earth.
Mark Rober was an engineer with NASA for nine years, seven of which he spent working on the Curiosity rover which is still patrolling the frozen deserts of Mars.
But, like a lot of Americans, he did a science experiment at school that involved dropping an egg from a tall building to see if he could find a way to prevent it from cracking.
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His original idea was to build an autonomous self-guiding missile that would be lifted out of the Earth’s atmosphere by a balloon, before falling back at the speed of sound and ejecting the egg onto a carefully-placed square of mattresses.
But as Mark and his team developed the project, they realised it was a lot more complicated than that.
For example, they realised that the egg could freeze in the low temperatures of the outer atmosphere and so would have to be kept warm by tiny heaters built into the missile's nose cone.
One of the other hazards Mark faced was retrieving a nice fresh egg from beneath a distinctly unimpressed chicken.
Another embarrassing mission failure came on the morning of the first test flight when the “egg-stronaut” fell out of the missile as it was being carried to the launchpad.
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But Mark and his team stuck at it – even building a low-tech backup egg protector in case the "guided missile" approach didn't work.
Four failed attempts – and three long years – after starting the project, Mark was ready to send the egg to the fringes of the Earth’s atmosphere.
It took the balloon two hours to reach its maximum altitude and despite a last-minute hitch which saw the balloon star leaking all of its helium at 20,000 feet both the missile egg – and a second backup egg packed inside a beach-ball fill of foam – made it safely back down to the California desert.
“Next year,” vows Mark, “we’re doing this on Mars”.
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