Yukon balloon returns to Earth with space footage

The balloon a group of Yukoners launched into the stratosphere last week has come back down, along with some remarkable footage of its journey.

The balloon a group of Yukoners launched into the stratosphere last week has come back down, along with some remarkable footage of its journey.

The balloon was launched from Yukon College last Thursday. It's thought to have reached as high as 36,000 metres (120,000 feet), the edge of space.

Kieran O'Donovan and Ben Sanders were part of the Yukon group that launched a balloon into the stratosphere last week. They retrieved the balloon's payload containing remarkable footage of its journey from a mountainside in Alaska. (CBC)

The group expected the flight to last about three hours, but after about five hours, they started getting concerned. The GPS unit isn't designed to work at that height, so for much of the voyage the crew on the ground was cut off.

"We started to become concerned that we might have lost the payload," said Ben Sanders, organizer of Yukonstruct.

"And then there was this moment, just before five hours where it came back on, we were watching the map and saw this little dot start to blink and, you know, it was really like a mission control moment where everyone was high-fiving and celebrating."

At the edge of space, the balloon popped. As it fell, the payload rocked back, giving the camera a brief glimpse into space before drifting back to the earth by parachute.

That's when the ground crew's journey began.

The capsule landed on the edge of a mountain just east of Juneau, Alaska, nearly 300 kilometres from Whitehorse.
Recovering it took a ride to the border, a ferry down the coast and a helicopter trip to a remote glacier.

"The helicopter can't land, so what it does — it essentially puts the toes of the skids on the slope and then stays in a hover while you climb out of this hovering helicopter, quite carefully of course," said videographer Kieran O'Donovan.

They say it was worth the effort for the amazing footage.

"For me as a videographer, just seeing that image in particular where it's just kind of at the apex of its flight and you're looking at the full curvature of the earth, the icefields, the ocean below  you see the Yukon in its global context," said O'Donovan. 

"You can start to see from that altitude, certain environmental and geological patterns and conditions that start to make you reflect ultimately on our impact here on the ground." 

They say they'll do it again, maybe at night, to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.