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1804: Joseph Gay-Lussac, a French scientist, was the first balloonist to go miles into the air. His big balloon carried him to 23,000 feet (7,010 metres). There he began to gasp for breath. He made the important discovery that the higher you go in the atmosphere, the less oxygen in the air.


1866: Two English scientists, Henry Coxwell and James Glaisher, reached 36,000 feet (10,972 metres) in a big balloon carrying many instruments. Glaisher lost consciousness. Coxwell knew he had to stop the balloon from rising any farther, but his hands were frozen. He could not use them to pull on a cord that would open a flap to let has out. Finally, he got the cord in his teeth and the balloon went down.


1931: August Piccard, a Swiss physicist studying cosmic rays, found a way to go much higher than anyone had before. He took a supply of oxygen with him. In a sealed gondola attached to a big balloon, he and his assistant went up to 51,961 feet (15,838 metres) - nearly 10 miles!


1961: Commander Malcolm Ross and Lieutenant Commander Victor Prather of the U.S. Navy set the all-time official altitude record. They helped American space scientists by testing space suits containing life support systems. Wearing the suits and rising in an open cage beneath a 10,000,000 cubic foot (283,168 cubic metres) helium balloon, they went up 113,500 feet (34,594 metres) - more than 21 miles!




  The French farmers attacked the early Charles balloon because they thought it was some kind of an unknown creature that might be very dangerous. They were frightened by its size, many times that of a man. But that balloon was tiny compared to the huge airships, called Zeppelins, which sailed the skies in the early part of the twentieth century.

  Zeppelins were dirigibles built with an aluminum frame covered with cloth. Inside there were several separate balloons filled with hydrogen gas.

  In 1928, the Graf Zeppelin made its first flight. It was 772 feet long, and 100 feet (235.3 x 30.5 metres) thick at its widest part. With a crew of 40, it crossed the Atlantic Ocean, carrying 20 passengers. In 1929, the Graf Zeppelin flew all the way around the world.

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