National Geographic : 1936 Jan
MAN'S FARTHEST ALOFT rnotograph by Kichard H. Stewart A TEST-JUST TO MAKE SURE THEY CAN COME BACK FROM THE STRATOSPHERE! Like a mound of ice rises the partially inflated bulk of the Explorer II. The two round spots are the valves through which the balloonists will release gas and thus control the ascent and descent of the bag. Captain Stevens and W. W . Cummings test the valves to make sure they work. The snaky line leading from the drum is part of the 400-foot small rubber hose through which compressed dry gas flowed from the control inside the gondola to operate the valves. The hose was fastened to the bag's outer surface at intervals in loops, snake fashion, so that, as the balloon fabric stretched, the line would not break. Anderson and I talked to each other re markably little, and most of our conversa tion hinged on the appearance of the huge balloon as it slowly and majestically swelled to its full proportions. Through our vertical port we could see only a frac tion of the outside surface of the balloon that part below the lower catenary band. That area was enormous; from it we could only imagine the proportions of the re mainder of the bag that was concealed from our view. A BREATH-CATCHING MOMENT It may sound ridiculous, but to me the only moment of the entire flight that was breath-catching was the time when the big central appendix first opened at 65,000 feet and through it I saw the dome of the bal loon so far, so very far, above us. It was incredible that we were riding under such a mighty ball of gas! The opening of the central appendix marked our arrival at "pressure height," the altitude at which the gas in the bal loon, which had been expanding throughout our rise, finally filled the huge bag com pletely and began to flow outward through these hanging chimneys of cloth which had been provided for that very purpose. I have remarked that time passed very fast, but, paradoxically, after we had been in the air five hours, it seemed at least twice that length of time since we had left the ground. I could picture again the take-off from the Stratobowl. The ropes holding the gon dola to the wheeled platform, on which it had rested so long, had been cut away and our ground crew had "walked" the balloon and its burden as far as possible to one side of the bowl in the direction against the existing northwest wind, as shown by flags on the rim of the bowl and by small sound ing balloons released a few minutes before. In the bottom of the bowl there was practically no wind at all, and the huge bag floated without a ripple in its surface.