Netflix pulls an Elon Musk, launches video into 'space'

Inspired by Elon Musk and SpaceX, Netflix takes itself to insane new heights using an iPhone, Star Trek and a weather balloon.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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This Netflix-equipped iPhone took a ride on a weather balloon.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

You can get Netflix in nearly 200 countries around the world, but getting it off the planet is a little more difficult.

Inspired by "a well-known spacefaring industrialist" (that's got to be Elon Musk and his recent SpaceX rocket launches), Netflix employees figured out how to watch the streaming service's videos in "space." 

Netflix hosts a series of Hack Days that let employees knock off work to create fun experiments and test unusual projects within 24 hours. One of the Hack Day Winter 2018 teams sent Netflix high into the air on board a meteorological balloon.

The helium-filled balloon got to an altitude of 115,000 feet (35,000 meters), which isn't exactly a trip to space , but is high enough to see the Earth's curvature and the darkness beyond. We'll allow some hyperbole because the project is so cool. 

The Netflix team downloaded video content to an iPhone and set up a GoPro camera to watch the screen and catch the view of Earth below. 

The system included heaters to keep the batteries functioning in the cold and gear for tracking the GPS location, temperature, pressure and altitude during the flight. The team tucked the whole kit into a Styrofoam cooler with a window. 

The viewing experience isn't ideal. A Netflix video shows a fuzzy portion of a "Star Trek: Discovery" episode playing on the iPhone. You can see ice crystals behind the phone.   

Variety tipped us off to the entertaining exploit. Netflix got an assist with the weather balloon from the Stanford Student Space Initiative, which regularly launches high-altitude balloons that can stay aloft for up to five hours, which still isn't enough time to binge-watch an entire Netflix series.

The Netflix Hack Day project may not achieve the same level of infamy as Musk's launch of a Tesla Roadster into space, but it shows how SpaceX is inspiring others to get a little nutty with their own space stunts.

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