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How a 13-year-old sent a message to her dad in space

The car manufacturer Hyundai helped a girl tell her dad, who works on the International Space Station, that she loves him. Just how difficult is it to make something that can be seen from space?

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    When the daughter of an astronaut on the International Space Station had a special hand-written letter to send to her father, Hyundai Motor found an out of this world way to share her message.
    PRNewsFoto/Hyundai Motor Company
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With the help of the car manufacturer Hyundai, a 13-year-old girl was able to send a message to space, where her dad works on the International Space Station (ISS).

“He gets to live and work in space and he is doing lots of experiments up there. He has to stay there for long periods of time ... I miss him when he is gone,” Stephanie, who is from Houston, Texas, said in a video. “I think if we could write a really big message he would be able to see it from space.”

Hyundai took her wish to heart and decided to take on the challenge. Using Nevada's Delamar Dry Lake as a canvas, 11 Genesis sedans drove in synchronized patterns, spelling out “Steph <3’s you” across 2.14 square miles of desert. A promotional video, which Hyundai made to document the process, captured her father’s response and showed the picture he took of her message from the ISS.  

“I am happy that he could see it and knows that we are thinking about him back home,” Stephanie said. “He has seen so many things up there, but I hope that this message was the most special.”

Yes, the whole endeavor is largely an advertisement for Hyundai, but the feat is still quite impressive. The message earned Hyundai the Guinness World Record for largest tire track image ever created.

The project is reminiscent of the Nazca lines – enormous geoglyph drawings in the Nazca desert in Peru. The drawings date back to between 500 and 300 BC and cover 279.617 square miles, but their origin remains a mystery, as historians do not know how technology at the time would have allowed for such an undertaking.

But even with modern technology, it is difficult to conceptualize how the Hyundai team was able to pull off not only writing letters that were two miles long, but also crafting them to look like Stephanie’s handwriting.

In the video, the team can be seen designing the intricate route with model cars and the assistance of a helicopter overhead. The fleet of cars drove side by side, with the middle most car tracing a path previously drawn in the sand. Drivers also had the help of a GPS that mapped the course.

There are many misconceptions about what can and cannot be seen from space. Contrary to popular belief, the Great Wall of China cannot be seen from space, but many seemingly less significant things are visible.

"A farmer from Louisiana could be burning trash in his backyard, and it would make a big enough smoke trail that they could see it from space," Mike Gentry, a photo researcher for NASA's human-tended vehicles, told the Monitor last year.

And with a sophisticated camera lens, astronauts can see the earth in great detail and even keep up an eye on their favorite sports teams.

"It can safely be said, a lens on a camera can almost pick up home plate on Minute Maid Stadium in Houston," says Mr. Gentry. "The naked eye can see patterns of streets and rivers. You'd be surprised sometimes at the smallness of things."

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