Girl Launches Her MIT Acceptance Letter Toward Space

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MIT’s future students receive their acceptance letters in shimmering silver cardboard tubes. It’s more of a legacy item – the mailing used to contain a poster – but now it’s simply a postmarked reminder of the school’s uniqueness. And to highlight that trait this year, the MIT admissions staff put a note into each accepted student’s tube asking him or her to “hack” the tube. They even created a website to show off the best. And leave it to the MIT class of 2016 to come up with some far-flung ideas. Literally.

The prestigious university has a storied history with the word “hack,” which is meant less in the sense of compromising a computer than it is merely in displaying a clever or creative twist on technology. With the requested tube hack, MIT asked the accepted students to come up with a “funny, creative, or artistic new interpretation” of their tubes, in honor of the 30th anniversary of one of MIT’s most legendary pranks.

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In 1982, during the contentious Harvard-MIT football game, a giant weather balloon placed conspicuously on the 50-yard-line was suddenly inflated mid-game, continuing to expand until it exploded in a blast of talcum powder all over Harvard’s home turf. Channeling this, one 16-year-old accepted student created a tube hack that also hearkened back to the iconic weather balloon stunt. Erin King, from Columbus, Ga., launched her tube skyward with the help of a weather balloon. On its face, that would be a hardly exciting prank. But remember, this is a (future) MIT student here: Erin attached both a camera and GPS trackers to it. The gadgets allowed her to later recover the tube and enjoy the view.

She packed the tube with the electronic components and then attached it to the helium-filled balloon. Launching it from a field in Lumpkin, Ga., she watched it ascend as high as her eye could follow. After that, she could only track it via GPS up, up – 91,000 feet up. That’s nearly three times higher than the average airplane. And the GoPro camera attached gave some stunning views of the Earth. Eventually, the balloon popped and the tube came crashing back to the ground. Shockingly, it landed only 75 miles east of its launch site after a two-hour flight.

King showed quite a sophisticated hack before she even set foot in an MIT classroom. We wonder what she has planned when she’s on campus next school year.

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