National Geographic : 1957 Feb
28t Each of us tried to guess the moment of im pact, exclaiming "Now! Now!" Meanwhile, we were only 7,000 feet high and descending better than 1,000 feet per minute. The hatch covers stayed with us until the last minute. At several hundred feet above earth we jettisoned one of them, jumped into our seats, and fastened safety belts. Lee kicked the second cover out at 30 feet. Our final task, firing the explosive charge that would sever the balloon from the gon dola, had to be judged to a nicety. If the balloon were freed too soon, we would fall like a stone. If too late, we would hit, bounce like a ball, and then fall heavily. As a safeguard against accidental release, two switches had to be closed before the firing mechanism would work. Mal threw the first one and, seconds later, just at the moment of touchdown, Lee closed the second. The gon dola rolled to one side, rebounded to an up right position, and was still. We had been aloft four hours and four minutes, slightly less than half the anticipated flight time. Injuries? Not so much as a scratch. The descent rate at impact, about 800 feet per minute, had been double the normal landing speed, but a thick Styrofoam pad beneath the gondola cushioned shock. We clambered out, shook hands, and took a long, appreciative look at our surroundings. In the distance we saw our balloon, floating away on the wind. It was later picked up, intact, 15 miles southeast of our landing place. Our colleagues say we landed in a bleak, desolate, sandy basin. Well, they're literal minded; to us that spot in Nebraska will always seem as beautiful as a flower garden. Robert F. Sisson, National Geographic Staff 4 Gondola Lands on a Nebraska Ranch; Visitors Gather Quickly Unused cargo parachute has collapsed at the end of its lines. Cut loose at the moment of impact, the gasbag has drifted off; it was recovered intact 15 miles away. The extreme fragility of polyethylene balloons forbids their use a second time. Usually they are given to the finders. Farmers prize the material as a wrapper for foods in the deep freeze. The same substance is used for bags in which house wives buy carrots, oranges, and other produce. This view was shot from the flying laboratory. +Admirers of Capts. Albert W. Stevens and Orvil A. Anderson, who piloted Explorer II, the aeronauts unfurl the flag of the National Geographic Society, co-sponsor of the record-breaking 1935 flight. Their feet are bundled in polyethylene to shut out cold. Photograph was made by an airplane pilot who followed the balloonists down.