Earlier this week a team of Harvard undergrads tickled YouTube viewers with their video of a hamburger going up into outer space - and then coming down, and then being shot at by "a local" with a bow and arrow. The hamburger was provided by the local chain b.good, who also supplied funding for the project. Eater spoke with burgerstronaut Renzo Lucioni about how it felt to send an iconic sandwich beyond the clouds, what food he might send into space next, and just what happened to the burger after it landed. Spoiler alert: a squirrel probably ate it.
How did this all come together? I'd been thinking about doing something like this for a while. I just wanted to take photos or ideally video of the curvature of the Earth. I knew that some MIT students had done it a few years back and it seemed like a pretty cool weekend project, and they [the team] agreed and that was pretty much it for that day. And then the next day we were all still pretty excited about it but we realized it would be a little more expensive than we initially thought. One of our guys thought that maybe we could get some funding and so we sent an email to b.good and they answered promptly - five minutes later - saying that they'd love to sponsor us. Over the course of the next two weeks they gave us about a thousand dollars to work with and we purchased the necessary parts.
What was the hardest part? The hardest part was getting helium. We had no idea that there is currently a global helium shortage, and it was pretty difficult to get our hands on some, but we did. And then we took it out to Sturbridge and did it.
Did it go as expected? Yeah, actually, surprisingly. The only thing that we were kind of surprised about - well it wasn't surprising, we knew it would end up in a tree. We managed to, as you can see, recover it.
Why a hamburger? Well we figured it was the least we could do for b.good in exchange for their sponsorship. We also figured there were no videos of hamburgers in space - there was one of a hot dog and one of pizza, but a hamburger? Nothing. So we figured there's a void we can fill.
Any future plans along these lines? Well it looks like we have Boloco in line for a burrito launch. I don't know if it's something we're going to do or not. Actually the group that helped us find the helium and the phone we used for the GPS is a little startup that does alternative science education for high schoolers, and we thought that at some point it might be fun to help them out and go work on some projects.
Watching the video is sort of a vicarious experience. Do you find yourself at all jealous of the hamburger? I'm pretty sure the hamburger was pretty cold up there, so not really. I got to see everything the hamburger got to see, without the fall. I wouldn't say I'm jealous of it, no. It also got eaten, so you can't be too jealous of that.
Eater later requested additional information via email. Renzo wrote:
The burger was indeed eaten, we suspect by a squirrel. As you can see from the video, the burger was still attached to the acrylic plank when the payload landed in the tree, but was gone when we recovered it a few days later.
Would you say this is a bigger accomplishment than Felix Baumgartner breaking the sound barrier? I personally wouldn't say that. Some people on the team might. It depends who you ask.