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Erika Hamden: What does it take to send a telescope into the stratosphere?

Part 2 of TED Radio Hour episode: Special Delivery

Astrophysicist Erika Hamden spent 10 years building FIREBall, a telescope that reaches the stratosphere and looks for clues to how stars form. Launching it was more challenging than she ever imagined.

About Erika Hamden

Erika Hamden is an assistant professor in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona and an assistant astronomer at Steward Observatory. As an astrophysicist, she builds telescopes designed to look deep into space, as well as the sensor technology that make the telescopes more efficient.

Hamden received her bachelor's degree in astronomy and astrophysics from Harvard University. After working as a chef for a year, she then began graduate school at Columbia University, where she earned her Ph.D. She worked as a post doc at Caltech, and was an NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow and the R.A. and G.B. Millikan Prize Postdoctoral Fellow in Experimental Physics at the California Institute of Technology. She has earned numerous awards for her research.

Hamden is a 2019 TED Fellow.

This segment of TED Radio Hour was produced by Matthew Cloutier and edited by Sanaz Meshkinpour. You can follow us on Twitter @TEDRadioHour and email us at

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Manoush Zomorodi is the host of TED Radio Hour. She is a journalist, podcaster and media entrepreneur, and her work reflects her passion for investigating how technology and business are transforming humanity.
Matthew Cloutier is a producer for TED Radio Hour. While at the show, he has focused on stories about science and the natural world, ranging from operating Mars rovers to exploring Antarctica's hidden life. He has also pitched these kinds of episodes, including "Through The Looking Glass" and "Migration."