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Believe it or not …

September 13, 2013

Camilla, the rubber chicken astronaut wearing medical radiation badges on her chest, hovers at 128,000 feet above Owens Valley on March 3. This photo, taken during the launch that put Earth to Sky on Ripley’s Believe It or Not radar, was also among Time Magazine’s top 100 photos in 2012. Photo courtesy Earth to Sky, LLC

Bishop Union High School science club Earth to Sky Calculus routinely makes experimental balloon launches to the edge of space and a recent launch landed them in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
Earth to Sky members were notified on Aug. 28 that one of their recent experiments made it into Ripley’s latest hardback. Earth to Sky student members, mentored by local astronomer Dr. Tony Phillips, are Justin Gilpin, Olivia Grah, Anna and Jordan Herbst, Sam Johnson, Melodie Lawrence, Rachel Molina, Ginger Perez, Amelia Phillips, Carson Reid, Bronwyn Stephenson and Michael White.
“We’re in Ripley’s latest hardbound volume, ‘Dare to Look!’ which was released on Sept. 10,” Olivia said. “We’re on page 235.” Michael said, “Who doesn’t want to be in Ripley’s?” and Amelia added, “I plan to buy copies for all my
Earth to Sky made the Ripley’s cut, because in March they “sent the first ever scientist-chicken to the edge of space,” Ginger explained.  “One-hundred-twenty-eight thousand feet is the highest any rubber chicken has ever been above Earth,” White added. Camilla, the club’s rubber chicken astronaut manned the flight, wearing a pair of medical radiation badges.
storm, which was underway at the time of the flight,” Michael explained.
But why a rubber chicken, which usually used in the pursuit of slapstick comedy rather than in the pursuit of science. Phillips said Earth to Sky got Camilla from NASA – she had been its official rubber chicken. Justin added that the results of the experiment where “inconclusive but we suspect that the rubber chicken experienced high levels of radiation.”
Earth to Sky Calculus was formed 2010 “because we wanted to build a satellite to orbit the Earth,” Phillips’ daughter Amelia said, although Phillips started teaching the kids calculus and quantum mechanics as an extracurricular class when they were 5th graders.
The club’s mission is to “explore the space near Earth and to explore our own interests in science and related fields,” Michael said. Meanwhile, Phillips said, “We have been flying balloons to the edge of space for research, fun and profit.”
Profit? That’s right. With each launch costing nearly $800 – helium prices are more than tripled in recent years – Phillips said, the group formed Earth to Sky, LLC this year in order to raise funds. The 92-percent student-owned and operated corporation has clients who pay Earth to Sky to literally launch their ads, Michael explained. The club launches banners, and sometimes actual products, to the edge of space, then provides clients with the footage. Clients include independent German baking company Cuperella, Celestron telescopes and Interpret America.
For now, profits fund research flights, Phillips said, however “we hope to become so profitable that it can make a contribution to the students’ college tuition. We’re not quite there yet, so we still welcome donations from parents and members of the public.”
Donations can be sent to Phillips at 1335 Rocking W. Dr., #396, Bishop, CA 93514, with checks made out to “Earth to Sky.” For more information, email
If anyone is interested in joining the club, “Earth to Sky Calculus is not exclusive to BUHS students,” Sam said. “We have one collaborator from a high school in Washington who has been trying to capture exotic microbes from the stratosphere.”
Like any endeavor Earth to Sky has its rewards and challenges.  Ginger said the club allows her to explore “the sciences of our atmosphere and environment in a creative way and together we have built a very tight-knit group of individuals.” Justin said, “Seeing the fruits of our endeavors after hours of hard work” is most rewarding. However, “wind is a major obstacle during launches,” Olivia said, “while the difficulties involved with recoveries include four-wheel drive roads and back-country hikes.”
Earth to Sky continues moving onward and upward. One project will “look at ozone levels in the atmosphere before and after solar flare events for an AP Environmental Science class,” Michael explained. Also in the not to distant future, all of the science hobbyists plan to pursue four-year degrees in areas from electrical engineering to criminal justice and business to chemistry. Rachel will soon study astrophysics at University of California Santa Cruz, Phillips said.
Katharine Allen, the mother of Anna and Jordan, said of Earth to Sky’s overall impact on its members, “I’ve watched a remarkable process unfold, where curiosity leads to exploration, exploration leads to more curiosity and more exploration. Some questions are answered. Many more are asked. There is no such thing as failure … The lack of a defined ‘frame’ around what is possible or acceptable, has allowed them to take a science club and turn it into an avenue for becoming entrepreneurs with Edge of Space Advertising, filmmakers, writers, as well as scientists.”
When asked if the Ripley’s recognition now places Earth to Sky among the astronomy superstars, Phillips said with a grin, “While we have not yet attained international fame on par with Galileo or Hubble, the Ripley’s recognition certainly brings us closer to the spotlight.”

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