he Kentucky State Police received multiple reports of sightings. A couple of days later, the Appalachian News-Express ran a story headlined "Mystery Object in Sky Captivates Locals." Regional television stations reported that government agencies professed ignorance. The story was picked up by CNN. And the UFO-loving website Ashtar Command Crew linked to the news as ostensible proof of continuing visits from the Galactic Federation fleet. Epling, for his part, didn't jump to extraterrestrial conclusions. But still, what was it? Rich DeVaul knows. Sitting in a conference room in Mountain View, California, he beams proudly as he runs a YouTube clip of one of the newscasts. The mysterious craft was his doing. Or, at least, the work of his Google team. The people in Pike County were witnessing a test of Project Loon, a breathtakingly ambitious plan to bring the Internet to a huge swath of as-yet-unconnected humanity—via thousands of solar-powered, high-pressure balloons floating some 60,000 feet above Earth.
The concept of an Interplanetary Internet first came into being in 1998, about a year after the quarter-century anniversary of the design of the Internet. At the time, a man named Vint Cerf was ruminating on the future of the Internet, and with good reason; Cerf co-developed the Internet protocol suite, a set of rules (commonly known as TCP/IP) that helps orchestrate the transfer of data throughout the network of devices we call the Internet.