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What happens when you want to see the vast expanse of space for yourself? If you’re Rebecca and Kimberly Yeung, you go check it out for yourself—even if you’re still in elementary school.
The Yeung sisters have pretty normal hobbies for American kids: They’re into martial arts, basketball and piano. However, they’re also into space exploration. In 2015, when they were only 10 and 8 years old, Rebecca and Kimberly saw YouTube videos of weather balloon launches and were impressed that you could actually send a balloon to space. With over 16,000 weather balloons launched every day by meteorological and aeronautical programs, the girls figured it couldn’t be hard to craft their own rig. So they did.
The Loki Lego Launcher was their first weather balloon, fully equipped with in-flight computers to take pressure, temperature, altitude, speed and locational readings and GoPro cameras to record what it sees. The Yeungs hoped their first launch would just get off the ground successfully. Instead, the Loki Lego Launcher—named for the picture of their cat, Loki, and the Lego R2-D2 figurine that served as the in-flight “crew” on the craft—soared into the stratosphere, reaching an altitude of 78,000 feet.
The images the young explorers got back from the GoPro showed their crew members in front of a horizon line dividing Earth from that interstellar nothing. Although successfully launching an at-home space program was thrilling enough, the next thing that happened was even wilder.
Stories of the Yeungs’ launch began making the rounds on the news, from local and special-interest publications to national news sources, including The Washington Post. Then, they got the call. Then-President Barack Obama invited the Yeungs to the 2016 White House Science Fair to present the Loki Lego Launcher’s findings.
According to Rebecca and Kimberly, Obama is really friendly and easy to talk to, even when he was the most powerful person in the world and the Yeungs were, in their own words, “just 9- and 11-year-old girls who did a science project.”
Inspired by their presidential stamp of approval, the Yeungs returned home, made some improvements to the Loki Lego Launcher (including swapping R2-D2 for a figure of Star Wars’ latest lead character, a woman named Rey) and made a 101,000-foot flight—even farther into space. The girls hope their story will encourage other pioneers, regardless of age or gender, to look up to all the wonder above and see only possibility.
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