After a four-​​hour drive to Cobleskill, N.Y., five mem­bers of Northeastern’s chapter of the Amer­ican Insti­tute of Aero­nau­tics and Astro­nau­tics climbed out of their van and into the frigid early-​​winter air. Then they pro­ceeded to fill a giant, seven-​​foot weather bal­loon with helium.

In a box cooler affixed to the bal­loon with twist-​​ties and cara­bi­neers, the team mem­bers placed an old iPhone, a Go-​​Pro camera, and some cave cal­cite and kun­zite min­erals, which are known to flu­o­resce under short-​​wave ultra­vi­olet light—but are only acces­sible above the ozone layer. Then they let go of the bal­loon and watched it drift off into the upper atmos­phere, some­where on the order of 90,000 feet above the earth and close to the ozone layer.

An hour and a half later, the bal­loon and its inan­i­mate pas­sen­gers landed safely in Bed­ford, N.H., where another seven mem­bers of the group were able to find it by tracking the iPhone’s GPS signal.

While the exper­i­ment with the min­erals didn’t go as planned, the group’s founding pres­i­dent Andrew Buggee, S’16, says the event was nothing short of a suc­cess. It was the group’s first big project and it was, by all accounts, thrilling.

Buggee, who’s majoring in physics and minoring in mechan­ical engi­neering, has always been inter­ested in aero­space sci­ence. But since no campus club existed, he took the ini­tia­tive to start one. He and his room­mate, Tom Kerikas, E’16, began plan­ning the AIAA group in the spring of 2013, Buggee says, “but it really took off after the COE Freshman Night this fall.”

Though they had no fancy ban­ners or gad­gets to impress the first-​​year stu­dents looking for exciting extracur­ric­ular activities—in fact they had nothing with them but a dusty copy of an intro to rocket sci­ence textbook—Buggee and Kerikas met with a huge amount of interest from the stu­dents. Sev­eral dozen showed up to the group’s first meeting a couple weeks later.

One of those stu­dents, Mary Mor­rison, is now the group’s trea­surer and per­haps its biggest advo­cate. “A lot of people are pretty suc­cessful at finding their own aero­space co-​​ops,” she says. “But it would be nice to see more of a com­mu­nity aca­d­e­m­i­cally, with sup­port from teachers, fac­ulty, and clubs at North­eastern.” And that’s pre­cisely what the AIAA group has created.

In early April, the team held its biggest event yet. This time, instead of launching a bal­loon into the upper atmos­phere, the group mem­bers were tasked with building a rocket to com­pete in the annual AIAA Battle of the Rockets in Culpeper, Va. Despite a few set­backs, the team came in first place in the event, launching its rocket—lovingly named Cal Ripken in honor of the cal­i­bra­tion mea­sure­ment that deter­mines a rocket’s stability—closer to the desired height of 1,500 feet than any other team.

Next up on the group’s agenda? Repeat the bal­loon mis­sion, get cer­ti­fied to launch rockets at higher power, and secure funding for a host of research projects, including sending a cube satel­lite into space with the help of astro­nauts at the Inter­na­tional Space Station.

Those are the big ideas. They’ve also got some smaller ones per­co­lating just for fun, such as flying a gold­fish across campus. No word yet on the fea­si­bility of that adventure.