National Geographic : 1936 Jan
MAN'S FARTHEST ALOFT perhaps 20 or 30 degrees from the horizon it was of the blue color that we are accustomed to. But at the highest angle that we could see it, the sky became very dark. I would not say that it was completely black; it was rather a black with the merest sus picion of very dark blue. In the rigging hung a new flag of the United States. This flag was in full sun light and I compared the blue of the field of this flag with that of the sky. Now the blue of our regulation flag is quite deep in shade, but it appeared a much lighter blue than the blue of the stratosphere sky. We remained at our ceiling for an hour and a half, our instruments clicking away as if to make the most of their unique oppor tunity. Then Captain Anderson opened one of the valves to start the balloon into de scent. Nothing happened at first, and he valved again and again. Finally the bal loon started into positive descent. SPORES AT HIGH ALTITUDE When we were absolutely sure that it was in descent, I pulled the release that caused the spore-collecting apparatus to fall free of the gondola. It was returned in excel lent condition to Washington by its finder, Mr. Frank Brtna, of Academy, South Dakota. Dr. L. A. Rogers, at the De partment of Agriculture, found that it had worked satisfactorily and had gathered spores on its descent from the upper air, before the sylphon-actuated device had closed its orifices at a high altitude. We also took with us from the earth several kinds of spores,* supplied by Mr. Fred C. Meier, of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, enclosed in tiny quartz tubes. These were hung on the outside of the gon dola, exposed to sunlight and stratosphere temperatures and pressures to determine whether they could survive such conditions. The specimens consisted of millions of spores far too small to be seen with the naked eye, representing seven types of fungi, some of which cause plant diseases. Despite the rigorous conditions to which the spores were subjected, five of the seven types germinated and grew normally when brought back to the laboratory, showing * Spores taken aloft were mold spores. Such spores are microscopic bodies which, while not seeds, bear much the same relation to the mold organisms that seeds do to the higher plants. Each of the mold organisms produces a number of spores at maturity, and each spore is capable of growing into a new mold organism. that apparently they were not injured by the ordeal. The sixth type germinated only to a limited extent and tests on the seventh type have not been completed. We carried the package of Drosophila (fruit flies), furnished by the University of Wisconsin, throughout the flight in the hope of finding whether their exposure to the bombardment of the cosmic rays that en tered the sphere would affect the character istics of their descendants. The package was sent on to the Univer sity of Wisconsin shortly after we landed, and it has been found that only three of the larvae of the flies survived. Generations of young will be bred from these three indi viduals and will be carefully studied. The results will not be known for several months. TAKING SAMPLES OF AIR When we were assured that we were fall ing constantly, I broke the seals on the previously evacuated air-sample flasks and opened all three inlet valves. Ten minutes later I closed them, replaced the protecting caps, and sealed the caps with lead seals. During the flight, especially at the higher altitudes, we saw through our portholes that vapors were forming in considerable quantity around the gondola. These vapors appeared to come from the gondola on all sides. At times they were so thick as to give the appearance of heavy smoke clouds from something burning on the outside of the gondola. Since our ballast bags had been fire proofed, it was unlikely that the dynamite caps could have ignited them. It is more than likely that the vapors came from evap oration of battery liquid in the storage bat teries that hung from our gondola, and from moisture contained in parachute bags and in ropes of the rigging. These vapors were seen only at the higher elevations. It was during the descent, when a pro nounced upflow of air passed the gondola, that our air samples were taken. There may be possibility of contamination of the samples with a trace of water vapor, but the effect on the percentage of oxygen, nitrogen, and argon should be nil. At this time we were moving slowly but steadily downward. It was necessary for Captain Anderson to open the valves re peatedly in order to keep the balloon mov ing downward. Whenever he ceased valv ing the balloon tended to stop.