When you talk to Connor O’Loughlin ‘17 about his project Wyverns in Space, you might believe, if you’ll excuse the pun, he has stars in his eyes. Enamoured with all things space related, O’Loughlin conceived of launching the 3-d printed Kingswood Oxford mascot, the Wyvern, attached to a weather balloon into the atmosphere with a GoPro camera and GPS to record the entire event last spring. And, on September 3, the Wyvern went where no Wyvern has ever ventured before -- 83,000 feet into the atmosphere. For those of you who are not as adept as O’Loughlin in converting the measurement, that’s 16 miles above the Earth.
O’Loughlin needed buy in from various constituents on campus to realize his project. He created a proposal with a thorough line itemized budget of $1,100 that included a prosaic styrofoam box and swim noodle stabilizer to two GPS trackers, flight computer, radio bug, cameras, temperature sensors, parachute and weather balloon. After presenting his concept to the student government in what O'Loughlin calls his “fancy dress aka suit”, the council agreed to fund $400 for launch. An entrepreneur at heart, O’Loughlin raised the balance of the money by selling buttons, designed by KO student, Bobby McCabe ‘16 as well as wrist bands. O’Loughlin enlisted the help of many hands, including faculty advisor, Noah Lynd, administrators Will Gilyard and Carolyn McKee, Ryan Clifford ‘17 for the 3D printing, Dan Bateson in the IT department, videographer Tim Bucknam ‘17 and student government liaison, Adam Kim ‘17. Director of Facilities, Larry Marciano, helped with gaining approval from the school’s legal team to ensure that the project was safe and to make certain that the sprinklers would be off the morning of the deployment. O’Loughlin was quick to add that there was always an adult present during the operation.
So, on a clear morning, O’Loughlin and many well-wishers, sent the intrepid Wyvern into space, reaching the aforementioned 83,000 feet, attaining a top speed of 93 mph and recording a low temperature of -64 F. All the data streamed into O’Loughlin’s phone; however, there was a slighthiccup when one of the GPS trackers malfunctioned. Launching the Wyvern was one aspect, retrieving the Wyvern was another. Preparing for any inevitability for the Wyvern’s touchdown, O’Loughlin jammed his car with a canoe, 12 foot metal poles and money (if necessary to cajole someone into helping his effort). The GPS tracker last recorded signal was in Sterling, CT on the Rhode Island border, one mile into an individual’s property. O’Loughlin and his companions, James Witt ‘17‘ and his brother Aidan ‘20 spoke to the owner and explained the project, and the man escorted the team to the site of the Wyvern, deep in a thicket of trees and brush. The Wyvern was 60 feet up in a tree and after much prodding to dislodge the Wyvern, the property owner lent the boys an ax and allowed them to cut down the tree, leaving O’Loughlin with three calluses for his effort.
After retrieving the Wyvern, O’Loughlin examined the data and reviewedthe six hours of footage from the camera. A stunning series of images emerged including the Wyvern hovering over the curvature of the earth and one of the weather balloon exploding in space. O’Loughlin presented a video of the entire project at a school assembly including his deep data analysis of the Wyvern’s journey. O’Loughlin said, “That was 100% the most rewarding part - to be able to show other people the video of what we had done.” He said people finally understood after months of explaining what he was trying to do.
Biggest lesson O’Loughlin learned? How to work through layers of approvals and steps and not lose sight of the goal. If you see O'Loughlin around town, (he’s in the car with, obviously, the NASA sticker) give him a thumbs up for blue sky thinking and not giving up on his infinite vision.