Stratospheric ar­ti­facts

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Front Page -

BAL­LOONS HAVE BEEN CAR­RY­ING

us into the sky for more than 230 years, and de­light­ing us in the process. Thanks to the gen­eros­ity of the Nor­folk Char­i­ta­ble Trust, the Mu­seum re­cently ac­quired the Eve­lyn Way Ken­dall Bal­loon­ing and Early Aviation Col­lec­tion, over 1,000 works of art, prints, ob­jects, books, and manuscripts doc­u­ment­ing the birth of hu­man flight, from the first as­cents in 1783 through the early years of the 20th cen­tury. When our staff mem­bers have fin­ished pro­cess­ing and con­serv­ing the col­lec­tion, it will be avail­able on­line, en­abling vis­i­tors to our web­site to share some­thing of the ex­cite­ment of those who wit­nessed the first hu­man be­ings rise into the air.

And bal­loons are still in the news. Read­ers of this is­sue will dis­cover that two firms are plan­ning to carry pay­ing pas­sen­gers into the strato­sphere in pres­sur­ized cab­ins dan­gling be­neath gi­ant bal­loons, then para­chute them safely back to Earth. I imag­ine the plan to send tourists up to 100,000 feet would have as­tounded U.S. Army Air Corps Cap­tains Al­bert Stevens and Orvil An­der­son, who flew the Ex­plorer II gon­dola now on dis­play in our Pi­o­neers of Flight gallery to a world record al­ti­tude of 72,395 feet on Novem­ber 11, 1935 (see p. 29). Their record stood for more than two decades, un­til the post-war drive to test a new gen­er­a­tion of aero­space sys­tems and equip­ment un­der ex­treme con­di­tions led to a new round of high- al­ti­tude bal­loon flights. On Au­gust 16, 1960, U.S. Air Force Cap­tain Joe Kit­tinger, a re­cip­i­ent of the Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum Tro­phy for life­time achieve­ment, pi­loted a bal­loon to a new al­ti­tude mark, 102,800 feet.

“Bal­loon Row,” a line of his­toric bal­loon bas­kets, gon­do­las, and cap­sules on dis­play at our Steven F. Ud­var-hazy Cen­ter, rep­re­sents more re­cent bal­loon record set­ters. Here vis­i­tors will find ar­ti­facts from Ni­cholas Piantanida’s 1966 as­cent to 123,800 feet and from the world record flight of Aus­trian parachutist Fe­lix Baum­gart­ner. On Oc­to­ber 14, 2012, Baum­gart­ner jumped from the Red Bull Stratos bal­loon cap­sule float­ing 127,852 feet over Roswell, New Mex­ico. He landed safely four min­utes and 19 sec­onds later, hav­ing be­come the first hu­man be­ing to break the speed of sound in free fall, trav­el­ing at 843.6 mph. Baum­gart­ner had shat­tered bal­loon and para­chute al­ti­tude marks that had stood for more than 40 years, but his record would be short-lived.

On Oc­to­ber 24, 2014, Alan Eus­tace, se­nior vice pres­i­dent at Google, reached a bal­loon record al­ti­tude of 135,898 feet and parachuted safely back to Earth. Just a few weeks ago I had the plea­sure of sign­ing an agree­ment to ac­quire the pres­sure suit, para­chute, and other gear that pro­tected him on his long de­scent. We have come a long way since 1783!

J.R. DAI­LEY IS THE DI­REC­TOR OF THE

NA­TIONAL AIR AND SPACE MU­SEUM.

Wash­ing­ton, DC Chan­tilly, VA

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