RISING stars have been given another lift after being inspired by a scientist who was once detained at gunpoint by US troops guarding the infamous Area 51.
Gifted geography students at Darlington School of Mathematics and Science worked with Dr Alex Baker, director of Sent into Space, constructing their own near space payload to carry cameras 30km high, before parachuting safely back to Earth.
Originally from Southside, near Butterknowle, Dr Baker began sending cameras on weather balloons into space on a whim while studying at Sheffield University, with spectacular results.
His collection of breath-taking pictures of the Earth has attracted the likes of X-Box, Sony Music, Natwest, Sheffield University and SpecSaver, with projects ranging from putting a bear in space for a spectacles advert to collecting particles in the hunt for extra-terrestrial organisms.
“We had been working in the Nevada desert near Las Vegas,” he told students.
“We launched a balloon from Death Valley and were tracking it back down into the mountains. All of a sudden, in an area not on the map, we saw signs saying ‘Test area, keep out’. Then there were guard towers and suddenly armed troops appeared and took us away for questioning.
“We think it was Area 51, the restricted zone where aliens are supposed to have landed, and we were detained for hours. When they finally let us go we were followed back to Vegas and when we arrived back home we had all our bags searched – so we are probably on a list somewhere.”
Students from Year 7-10 were also shown the latest video Dr Baker helped produce for musician Kelvin Jones, which uses his stunning photography.
With his help they constructed an insulated camera mount, complete with parachute, tracking device and GPS, which he promised to send into space.
Student Peter Gartland said: “We had such a great time and it has shown us some of the amazing opportunities out there if you are prepared to grab them.”
Geography teacher Kirsty Dunn said: “The group meets every week and the aim is to stretch and challenge them while making learning fun.
“Dr Baker has inspired them on so many levels showing what a local lad can achieve with the right drive, initiative and imagination.”