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From this ethereal vantage, we have the opportunity to not only look beyond our planet, but to also gaze back at ourselves. 

Space has never been more accessible to the dilettante explorer; we live in a world where commercial flights beyond our atmosphere are a growing reality. What was once only accessible to an elite band of astronauts, is now at the fingertips of anyone willing. As the number of individuals who have touched space doubles at a breakneck rate, there are a few pioneers ahead of the pack.

John Flaig is a Brooklyn-born software engineer and amateur photographer, currently living in the Midwest. While working at the Grand Canyon National Park some 15 years ago, John developed an interest in adventure, nature, and photography. Since then, John has been launching his “near space” weather balloons fixed with high end cameras to capture a rarefied glimpse of our planet from afar.

Such images were once only thought to come from NASA, now John is on the forefront of a growing movement to reach the edge of our gravitational pull. “Using a weather balloon is attractive because of the novelty and completely unique view it affords of places, like the Grand Canyon, that have been filmed extensively from every conceivable angle, in every conceivable condition, except from the edge of space,” John exclaims.

“My balloons aren’t really operated per se,” John admits. He starts out by deciding where he would like the balloon to land, and then figures out exactly where he’ll need to launch from. “It’s like playing golf with the hole being a hundred miles away.” Using some prediction tools, John can plot a trajectory fairly accurately with his closest estimate being only 10 miles off. That’s not bad when you consider that he is sending a balloon to the middle-stratosphere, which is roughly 22 miles high.“We live in the Troposphere,” John explains.

“That extends to about 10 miles up. Then there is the boundary layer, called the tropopause. The stratosphere then extends to around 31 miles before you hit the mesosphere where meteors burn up. Once in the stratosphere you are essentially above 99% of the atmosphere’s mass. The ozone layer is found in the lower stratosphere; my balloons can easily go above that.” Still, John is careful to comply with the FAA’s rules for unmanned free balloons.

A new short film for National Geographic, join us as we follow John as he attempts to photograph the Grand Canyon from the edge of space.


Photo by John Flaig

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Our Films at a Glance

Go Ganges!

Runtime: 1 hour 23 minutes

Released: April 2012

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Paddle to Seattle

Runtime: 1 hour 26 minutes

Released: September 2009

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Pedal to the Midnight Sun

Runtime: 1 hour 07 minutes

Released: 2006

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