Bloomington son, father send face masks into the atmosphere using weather balloon

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It’s a strange sight in the final frontier. It’s not a satellite, space station or a rocket. Instead, it’s a weather balloon with an unusual payload.

"World’s first face masks into space," Buddy Michaelson said. "That was pretty cool."

A place where no mask has gone before: to the edge of the atmosphere.

"Our face masks have been all over the world, but there’s one place they haven’t been, and that’s space," Michaelson declares. "So I thought it would be really cool to get our face masks with the curvature of the earth in the background."

Before now, you might know Michaelson, from Bloomington, as a face mask entrepreneur.

"I’m a little addicted to masks, I’m addicted to sewing," he chuckled as he spoke with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS last July.

Bloomington father-son duo sell 22,000 masks and counting

The 21-year old started last summer with a pop-up store, and eventually opened up a space of his own.

He’s now in a second, larger location.

Michaelson, partnering with his father Ky, says he’s sold 100,000 face masks. And that number keeps climbing every day.

"Well, I think that’s pretty darn cool that my son would take that interest," Ky Michaelson says.

But all that sewing and selling wasn’t enough. So the younger Michaelson began looking up at the Minnesota sky.

"So we decided to build a weather balloon and launch it into space, and just using GoPros that we had around," he recalls.

The payload were masks, of course. They were mounted on a foam box capsule, with GoPro cameras to record the trip. Michaelson paid $140 for a weather balloon, and $300 for enough helium to fill it.

"This is really neat," Michaelson explains. "Because we combined our three sides of life, which is parachutes, space, and masks, and so it’s all in one."

On April 3, he and his team launched their balloon from North Branch, keeping an eye on those mask with a trio of GoPros. The box also carried a pair of GPS tracking devices.

"So it tracks the Bluetooth to my phone," Michaelson says. "So this device is connected straight to my phone, and (another) device is connected to the tracker on board."

The balloon’s skyward journey took about two-and-a-half hours. Michaelson says it wasn’t an easy journey. He says the balloon fought 98 MPH winds in the jetstream, and temperatures that plummeted to -40 degrees.

"There’s basically no air, you’re above 99% of the earth’s atmosphere," he says. "So there’s absolutely no air up there, and so with the weather balloon there’s less pressure against the balloon, so it simply gets bigger and bigger."

With no air pressure at 92,000 feet, the balloon popped. A parachute slowed the box’s descent to its landing spot in Durand, Wisconsin, 100 miles from its starting point. It was a big moment for the father and son adventurers.

"The electronics that they got out now, the ability to track is incredible," exclaims Ky Michaelson.

One GoPro couldn’t handle the rigors of the trip. But two survived. The tracking devices were a huge help in finding the landing site, Ky Michaelson says.

"We followed this thing right to where it landed, I could not believe it," he exclaimed. "We’re going across bridges, lakes, big trees, hill, and it lands in a little cornfield, just go right to the thing."

Mission accomplished. The foam box wasn’t even damaged, the Michaelsons report.

"Buddy’s just taken over," Ky Michaelson beamed. "So who knows what he’s going to be able to do in the next 30 to 40 years. But you know I’m very proud of him."

The 21-year old says he’s not done yet. His next project, in about two years, is to launch a rocket capable of flying 25 miles into space. But this project, he says, was special.

"It’s just so cool to see our face mask floating in space and the curvature of the earth and the lakes down below," Buddy Michaelson smiles. "And just in the black of space, I think it’s so cool."