Two UNT Engineering students, Nicholas Tindle and Peyton Thibodeaux, and two of their friends, Ian Perez and Ben Linville, took first place in an unbelievable turn of events at Miami Hack, the world’s largest federated hackathon.

An invite-only conference focused on cryptography and technology, Miami Hack brings engineers from all over the country to the city for a week-long challenge. The participants are divided into sponsored houses and provided challenges by the sponsoring companies. They then present their solution or product for judging at the end of the week.

But the four friends hacked the hack and broke off into their own group, deciding to come up with their own project and do something unusual.

“You don’t actually have to be associated with a house, so we just started brainstorming together what would be really fun to do,” said Tindle, a computer engineering student. “That’s when we decided we wanted to send something into space.”

The group, newly named Cosmic NFT, spent the next couple days ordering materials and coordinating logistics to build and launch a weather balloon – and the first non-fungible token (NFT) – into space.

A NFT is a non-interchangeable unit of data stored on a blockchain that can be sold and traded and was key to their unique project. Types of NFT data units may be associated with digital files such as photos, videos and audio.

“This project was exciting, because we spent a lot of time diving into networking and blockchain technology as well as satellite communication,” said Thibodeaux, a computer science student. “We had to make sure we had a server that would be able to read the communication coming from the weather balloon.”

Once the team had tested their design and researched FAA guidelines, they hopped on a boat and traveled 30 minutes out from shore to launch the balloon.

“The balloon reached 34 kilometers, which is higher than airplanes fly,” said Tindle. “It surpassed airplane flight altitude within the first four minutes and just kept going.”

As it rose, the balloon sent data back to the students on land, or rather, on boat, that they were then able to retrieve as an image.

Word and video traveled back to the Miami Hack expo almost as fast as the balloon flew into space, landing Cosmic NFT within the top 5 teams in the competition.

“It was really surprising when the judges announced that we’d won Miami Hack, because we didn’t expect to,” said Tindle. “We really just set out to have fun and see if we could send something into space.”

The team received the overall prize, which included $10,000 and four free Delta flights.