NASA hands down a secret mission to… three high schoolers?

It's the kind of story that every kid dreams up: a school project turns out to be a secret mission from an agency such as NASA, and all of a sudden it's up to the youngster to solve it. That's exactly how it played out for three high school students in Massachusetts, who, it turns out, were helping NASA solve quite the conundrum.

The mission: Hayabusa, an unmanned spacecraft launched by Japan, was returning to Earth and NASA wanted to get the event on film. The tricky part, though, is that the only feasible way to do so would be from a separate aircraft. This is what the space agency turned to these three young students for.

The mission was actually posed to the trio by a teacher of theirs, probably so they wouldn't go gray with stress trying to succeed for NASA. Turns out their idea was pretty solid, and next thing they knew they were aboard a DC-8 aircraft, catching the reentry of Hayabusa in video and stills. You can see the fruit of their labor in this video.

(It's worth noting: when you watch the video, you'll see a shower of sparks, though if you look right and below them you'll see a shining dot. That's the capsule the Hayabusa carried, as the spacecraft was tasked with landing on an asteroid — which it accomplished back in 2005 — and bringing back a sample.)

NASA, via CrunchGear, via Coolest Gadgets