National Geographic : 1957 Feb
Our stomach-sinking drop, while by no means a tea party, was not the wild, near fatal misadventure one might imagine. The Office of Naval Research, sponsor of the flight, had provided well for every contin gency. Above us, suspended between the gondola and the balloon, we carried a 64-foot cargo parachute (page 280). If the balloon had failed entirely, this large parachute would have opened to lower the gondola gently to earth. And if the big cargo chute had failed, we could still have bidden the gondola a hasty adieu and used our personnel chutes. Nevertheless, as Lee said dryly in a radio comment to aircraft tracking our flight: "This is an unusual experience, and we could have done without it!" Flights to 100,000 Feet Planned The ascent was our second in the Navy's Strato-Lab program for a series of manned flights to altitudes ranging as high as 100,000 feet, and perhaps higher. The purpose: stud ies in aeromedicine, meteorology, atmospheric physics, astronomy, and other fields. On the first flight, last summer, we had gone to 40,000 feet in an open gondola, with oxygen masks, to study airplane vapor trails. On the second, with a sealed gondola, we hoped to photograph earth and sky from 75,000 feet. With the aid of binoculars and special light filters, we planned to observe sun and stars, as well as auroral particles and sodium distribution in the upper atmosphere. Until the day of the manned satellite, a 271 Thomas J. Aercrombie. National Geograpllic Staff T Lewis Tries Breathing at 100,000 Feet The Navy balloonists learned pressure breathing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, whose altitude chamber can duplicate conditions at 200,000 feet. Here automatic valves force oxygen into Lewis's lungs, but he requires a voluntary effort to exhale. Air pressure distends the fingers of his gloves. +Ross, tested at 100,000 feet, is seen through the control room's two-inch-thick glass.