Finn Hafting recently created a piece of artwork that was, well, simply out of this world.
The Annapolis West Education Centre High School student, part of a mini-space agency team in the small Nova Scotia town of Annapolis Royal, helped launched a weather balloon last weekend that included in its mission the creation of a first-of-its’s-kind abstract painting as it soared more than 32 kilometres above Earth.
“We haven’t found anyone who has done this. That is why we latched onto the idea and started working on how we could make this a reality,” said Hafting, who enters Western Engineering (Mechatronics) this fall. “The biggest thing was if the balloon would pop or if it would pop too soon. It was quite the relief when we came upon the package – which landed in a tree – and we looked down at the leaves and saw the paint dripping down. We knew we had something.”
Hafting, 18, is the winner of a Loran Scholarship ($100,000), one of the country’s largest undergraduate merit awards based on character, commitment to service and leadership potential.
As a founder of the Annapolis Climbing Gym and the Annapolis Innovation Lab/Makerspace, he also teaches robotics workshops, co-created a high-altitude ballooning group and is a competitive robotics world champion. He also composes music, plays piano and trumpet, and works as a lifeguard, referee and soccer program coordinator.
Hafting’s final high school high-altitude balloon launch was similar to previous years, where his team looked to acquire 360-degree footage of the Earth, along with other weather- and science-related data. This time, however, the team decided to attach an additional cargo box containing a blank canvas and an acrylic-filled balloon.
As the package soared towards space, the balloon holding the paint expanded to the point where it was popped by a mounted razor, thus splattering the paint across the canvas. As the main balloon then popped and began its journey back to Earth, that spinning turmoil is what created the high-in-the-sky piece of art.
Currently, the finished work is on display at the ARTsPLACE Gallery in Annapolis Royal, NS, as part of an exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing.
Since such an undertaking had never been done before, it meant a lot of preparation and testing with before the launch. It also meant there were no guarantees the hard work would pay off.
“One of the things I like about the projects we do is the fact you can’t give students guaranteed success,” said Derick Smith, a physics and art teacher at Annapolis West. He heads up the unofficial Annapolis Royal Space Agency. “We’ve had launches we’ve lost for a couple months and then retrieved. We’ve had launches where they have gone into the ocean and we still retrieved them. They were low moments because you put all this work into it.
“It’s not like in the classroom where you can say, ‘It’s all going to work out.’ It’s not. We have to fix this ourselves. And we’ve done that,” he continued.
“Using the life skills they are taught to solve problems, or attempt to solve them, is something you can’t reproduce a lot of times in the classroom. Whether you have success or not, to know you can solve a problem, that you can do something about it, is something you can’t take way from the students.”
‘Working through issues’ is something that intrigues Hafting as he works towards his goal of becoming an engineer.
“We do one launch each year. By working with students and teachers, it builds on that teamwork aspect,” he said. “It was a great project. It was kind of like being part of a startup, like a new company. Everyone had their roles they needed to do to make the group as successful as it was.
Smith agreed. “If the art wasn’t on board, this would not have gotten as much press as it has. We launched three balloons before and there wasn’t much attention. That shows you the power art can have. It’s everyone together. Without the artists, it doesn’t work. Without the technical people, it doesn’t work. Everyone can find a role which is what makes this project extra special.”
While more than two months before he arrives at Western, Hafting has already embedded himself in the campus community as part of a student-led High Altitude Balloon Initiative at the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX).
Hafting chose Western for its undergraduate degree in mechatronics, a program focused on the engineering of both electrical and mechanical systems along with a combination of robotics, electronics, computer engineering and other disciplines.
“It’s a whole new chapter of my life I’m looking forward to,” said Hafting, adding the campus will be a bit of an adjustment as his hometown population sits at just under 500.
“It will be different and interesting to see how many great people there are out there – people who are in my class, who are part of my scholarship. It will all fall into place. I can already see the campus in my mind.”