Former NASA engineer Mark Rober, the YouTuber best known for his Backyard Squirrel Maze and Exploding Glitter Bomb videos, recently dropped a couple of eggs from space that fell in the Victor Valley.
The 42-year-old Rober and his team of scientists dropped both eggs, with the intention of them not breaking, from a height of nearly 19 miles and with the help of a high-altitude balloon provided by Night Crew Labs.
The launch occurred earlier this year, but the “Egg Drop From Space” video was uploaded to YouTube on Black Friday.
It includes shots of the team driving on Bear Valley Road toward Deadman’s Point in Apple Valley. Also shown are Bell Mountain, Interstate 15 and an area west of I-15 and near the Dale Evans Parkway offramp.
A shot from the weather balloon in space showed the Victor Valley, including landmarks such as Spring Valley Lake and the Mojave River.
The egg-drop project
When Rober started conceptualizing his egg drop project nearly three years ago, he knew that a successful record drop would come from his experience of landing scientific gear on other planets when he worked for NASA.
A graduate of USC, Rober worked at NASA for nine years, seven of them on the Mars Curiosity project. He also spent five years at Apple working on advanced virtual reality technology for autonomous vehicles before quitting to become a full-time YouTuber.
Rober confessed that before he embarked on the egg drop project, he didn’t know that it would be the most “physically, financially and mentally draining video” he would ever attempt.
Rober’s team included rocket and propulsion specialist Joe Barnard, of BPS Systems, which helped with the rocket’s guidance system and design.
Rober’s original plan was to affix an egg onto a rocket, which would be lifted by a large weather balloon. Once in space, the rocket would be released and would guide the rocket to an area over the drop target.
At 300 feet above the ground, the egg would be released and free-fall toward a specially designed mattress.
After determining the terminal velocity of the egg to be 74 mph, he successfully tested the speed inside his Crunch Lab located near San Francisco
Rober and his team then headed to the Northern California town of Gridley for three low-altitude tests, which all failed.
‘A fatal flaw’
Rober sought the guidance of NASA engineer Adam Steltzner, who works for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and on several flight projects including Galileo, Cassini, Mars Pathfinder and the Mars Exploration Rovers.
After listening to Rober and details about his project, Steltzner found a “fatal flaw” in the project and asked him, “How did you not get busted by the FAA?”
Rober realized that his project was akin to creating a precision-guided missile, which is frowned upon by the federal government.
Heading to the High Desert
After going back to the drawing board, Rober’s team decided to conduct a rocket launch with a general egg drop target area in the High Desert.
The launch would use a weather balloon, which would lift a larger and heavier rocket to guarantee the egg would reach supersonic speed on its way down.
The helium-filled balloon would release the rocket, which would begin separating.
A portion of the rocket, carrying the egg, would slow before losing its nose cone and deploying a parachute and cushioned airbags, which were borrowed from the Spirit and Opportunity landing projects.
Just before liftoff, Rober discovered that the newly designed, the two-piece rocket might unexpectedly separate at Mach 2.
Rober and his team fixed the rocket’s connection point and ran vacuum and heat tests on the egg chamber.
They also built redundancy into the system, which included creating a custom beach ball, filled with packing materials to protect a second egg.
The entire payload, suspended from the balloon, would detach and simply fall to earth over the target.
Rober’s friend, JPL systems engineer Allen Chen, traveled to the Victor Valley for Rober’s second launch.
In 2012, Chen uttered the famous words, “Touchdown confirmed, we’re safe on Mars,” after the Curiosity Rover had survived the harrowing plunge and landed on the red planet.
Somewhere near Apple Valley, the lift-off of Rober’s balloon, rocket, beach ball and eggs was successful.
As the team drove and arrived at the projected landing site, they discovered that the balloon had surpassed the 100,000-foot mark.
As the group celebrated, moments later, they discovered that the balloon had suddenly lost altitude and came crashing down to earth.
As the balloon ascended, the cord that held the rocket, beach ball and eggs had wound so tight that it pulled down on the balloon, causing it to come hurtling down at 150 mph, “Which is way faster than the eggs could survive,” Rober explained.
As the team looked for the wreckage, they spotted the parachute, the rocket and the beach ball.
Rober was excited that at 20,000 feet, the payload had autonomously detached itself from the balloon.
Rober held back his excitement as he opened the rocket to inspect the egg.
As a smiling Rober pulled an uncracked egg from the rocket and held it high, Chen joyously said, “Touchdown confirmed, we’re safe on earth.”
That was repeated when Rober ripped open the beach ball and pulled out a second uncracked egg that he kissed.
“Two for two, baby!” shouted Rober as he high-fived Chen. “Two for two!”
Rober ended the video by saying that the egg drop from space project reminded him that in life things rarely unfold how we think they will.
“But by learning from your failures, coupled with a bit of tenacity, us humans can accomplish a feat as incredible as the world’s smartest Martian robot or as ridiculous as the world’s tallest egg drop,” Rober said.
Daily Press reporter Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227 or RDeLaCruz@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz
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