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