Just yesterday, Nancy and I were talking about engaging students with an authentic audience as we were discussing the Level 2 Technology Integration Academy webpage day. Then my alma mater emails me this article.
The $150 Edge-of-Space Camera: MIT Students Beat NASA On Beer-Money Budget
A couple of students were able to take a picture of the earth's curvature from the edge of space with $150 worth of store bought parts. Pretty fascinating. Equally fascinating, and somewhat disturbing, were the plethora of responses, both supportive of such innovation "besting NASA" and malignant of the students for recklessly endangering airplanes by interfering with flight patterns and possibly landing the styrofoam cooler on the head of some unsuspecting person. Well worth the read in my opinion.
Embedded in the comments were also a link to a high school, which apparently does this all the time. They use a similar technique to launch student experiments into the upper atmosphere.
I thought these were good examples of engaging students with real world challenges and providing the students with a more meaningful audience than a teacher grade.