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Bradenton boy's science project is out of this world

Batman never flew so high before.

Nor did the ambitions of 6-year-old Ethan Isaac and his dad, Eli.

That is, until a home-grown science project carrying the Rowlett Elementary first-grader’s favorite action toy soared out of this world.

They’ve got pictures to prove it.

“Every time I look at them, I laugh,” the 34-year-old father said. “It’s amazing.”

On Feb. 13 at G.T. Bray park, they released a helium-filled weather balloon 5 feet in diameter and parachute tethered to a Styrofoam cooler customized for a digital camera, a cellphone with a GPS device and handwarmers to keep them from freezing up.

Batman was duct taped to the tether for the ride.

“Dad came up with the idea of sending Batman into space and I said no, no, no, because I was afraid it was going to fall off,” Ethan said.

Plan B was one of his 4-year-old sister Olivia’s toys, but that was scratched.

“A Barbie doll would’ve been much too big,” said their mom, Amber.

Designed to reach 90,000 feet, the balloon expands as it rises, then bursts at its apex and falls to earth. Judging from the 500 photos taken by the camera, the balloon performed to its capabilities on its estimated two-and-a-half-hour ascent.

There are high-altitude shots of Anna Maria Island, Manatee River, Charlotte Harbor, Lake Okeechobee and Florida’s east coast.

But they got better.

There are also pictures high enough to see the dark blue edge of outer space.

“We felt we were going to get some pictures, but we didn’t anticipate the pictures we got,” Eli Isaac said. “Earth here, space there. No way!”

G.T. Bray has been the launching site for plenty of home runs, but Space Mission 1 -- as the family called it -- had to be another first.

“Eli has come up with crazy plans as long as I’ve known him, but he executes them,” said Tracy Rosa, who was on hand. “I knew it was going to go. I just wasn’t confident we’d find it again.”

The GPS failed, but Buck McClanahan came to the rescue.

A ranch hand at the 8,000-acre Triple-Diamond Ranch northwest of Okeechobee, he was riding his swamp buggy last Sunday and spotted the Isaacs’ prized balloon.

“I figured it was one of them weather balloons until I saw the sign with the phone number to call,” McClanahan said from Okeechobee. “So I called and they seemed really happy I did.”

To put it mildly.

The Isaacs figured it would be found later than sooner.

“Maybe next month, maybe next year,” Eli Isaac said. “We were driving back from a boat trip when Buck called and said, ‘I found your science project.’ I said, ‘What?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, I’m here in Okeechobee and I found your science project.’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! Thank you! Thank you!’ ”

“I was in tears,” his wife said. “It was a family project.”

They drove to Okeechobee on Monday to retrieve it and everything was intact.

The passenger, too.

“First thing he asked when we got there was, ‘Where’s my Batman?’ ” Dad said.

Regardless of what grade the project gets, it was an A for Team Isaac.

After researching the feasibility of a balloon space shot, Isaac purchased the gear and the arrival of each piece heightened the family’s anticipation.

“It was a great experience for me and my kids, a real education for all of us,” Eli Isaac said. “My lesson to him was if you and your sisters can send Batman and a camera into space at 6, you can do anything at 26.”

Alas, there will be no mantel of honor for the plastic astronaut.

“Batman’s going to go back to being a toy,” Ethan said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.

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