ANTIOCH -- Lauren Rojas' Hello Kitty has boldly gone where no doll has before. And the popularity of the toy's trek into near space -- evidenced by more than 376,000 views on YouTube as of Thursday afternoon -- is taking the Antioch teen to new heights.
Rojas, 13, a seventh-grader at Cornerstone Christian School, recently sent the doll into the stratosphere on a faux-rocket as part of a class science project. The Hello Kitty weather balloon traveled 93,625 feet above the planet and was airborne for about 90 minutes.
Rojas' family documented the journey with four cameras and condensed the footage into a YouTube video. With the fun. song "We Are Young" playing as a backdrop, the video shows the different camera
The project has become a smash on YouTube since posting on Jan. 25. It also has received national and international media attention, including from Canada, India and the Discovery Channel.
Sanrio, the company that created Hello Kitty, and High Altitude Science, the company that created the weather balloon and flight computer, both feature the flight on their websites.
Rod Rojas, Lauren's father, said they have been blitzed with interview requests, as well as questions from university students studying engineering asking to see raw footage, and from teachers around the world.
"It's been terrific how it's sparking all this interest," Rojas said. "It's great because seeing all this, I think it's sparked Lauren's interest in science and pushed it that much farther. All the other kids were asking questions as well, so it's sparking their interest as well."
The shy 13-year-old was watching television with her father when they saw a Citibank commercial showing three men using reward points for a weather balloon.
"I thought that was one of the coolest things ever, and thought right away it would be good for a project," Lauren said.
It so happened that all Cornerstone seventh-graders had to create a science experiment. Lauren decided to test the effects of altitude on air pressure and temperature as a weather balloon rose.
"When she first brought the idea to me, I had to make sure that it was an experiment and not a demonstration," teacher Annette Cluck said. "After she showed what she planned to do, I said, 'Go, girl.'"
Adding Hello Kitty was a way to have a little fun. A fan of the doll since she was 6, a figurine she received from her dad after he returned from a business trip to Asia "fit in the space perfectly," she said.
"She wanted to make it look like something was really going into space, instead of just making a capsule," Lauren's mother, Cheryl Martinez, said. "She thought it would be cute to support Hello Kitty."
Lauren also fastened some pink Hello Kitty-themed tape to the capsule. The rocket also has a pink ribbon sticker to honor those in her family who have survived breast cancer.
With her father, who works in sports marketing, assisting when power tools were required and providing other guidance, Lauren assembled the weather balloon contraption, including a flight computer, and attached four GoPro Hero2 video cameras to the capsule to record the journey.
"It took about a month to plan and put it all together," she said. "I thought it would be a little easier. While working on it, we would think back at how easy it looked on the commercial and laugh."
Added Rod Rojas: "It was a pretty big undertaking. There are a lot of moving parts and a big checklist."
Lauren spent a lot of time searching Google and YouTube to see what she should and shouldn't do to make the launch successful. After all, they had only one shot at it.
The parts cost less than $500, and even that came with "a lot of bargain shopping and finding the best prices," Rod said. They also had trouble finding helium because it is scarce and expensive, and instead used hydrogen.
Rod and Lauren launched the balloon about two months ago from an industrial complex parking lot in Livermore. It remained aloft for about 90 minutes before landing in a tree in the Almaden Quicksilver County Park area, west of San Jose and about 47.5 miles from its takeoff spot. They found the balloon by attaching a GPS tracking device. An arborist had to help retrieve it from the tree.
After the successful trip, a family friend helped compile the nearly four-minute video. The video flow, music and the ending were Lauren's ideas, her father said.
The normally shy Lauren was calm and "didn't miss a beat" in her presentation to her classmates on the project this week, Cluck said.
"She just beams with pride when the students praise her or talk to her about it," Cluck said. "She could probably talk about it all day long."
Half of the rocket and Hello Kitty are attached to a poster board, sitting in Cluck's classroom. It will be judged in the school's science fair Tuesday, and could be entered in a regional science fair for Christian schools.
"I'm beyond proud of her," Cluck said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.
To see Lauren Rojas' video of Hello Kitty's journey, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=5REsCTG4-Gg