Altitude of the Highest Manned Balloon Flight

The Physics Factbook
Edited by Glenn Elert -- Written by his students
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Bibliographic Entry Result
(w/surrounding text)
Standardized
Result
Piccard, Don. World Book Encyclopedia. USA: World Book, 1996. "1961, US Navy Officers Victor A. Prather, Jr and Malcolm Ross rose from a zero-pressure balloon at an altitude of 113,739.9 feet." 34,668 m
Crouch, Tom D. The Eagle Aloft: Two Centuries of the Balloon in America. Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 1983. "May 4, 1961, M.D. Ross and V.C. Prather rose at the world record of 113,740 feet." 34,668 m
Dwiggins, Don. The Air Devils: The Story of Balloonists, Barnstormers, and Stunt Pilots.Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1966. "In Sept 5, 1862, Coxwell and Glaisher rose to an altitude of 39,000 feet." 12,000 m
Nagel, Walter R. McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. New York: McGraw Hill, 1992. "The zero-pressure balloon is capable of reaching an altitude of 140,000 feet." 43,000 m
(theoretical)

A balloon is a bag filled with heated air or a light gas so that it rises and floats in the air. A balloon rises because the heated air or gas inside is less dense than the surrounding air. There are two chief kinds of balloons: hot-air balloons and gas balloons. Hot-air balloons are mainly use for sporting and they rise because the air inside the balloon is warmer and lighter than the surrounding air. Charles' Law explains how this is possible. It states that the volume of a gas increases as its temperature increases and if its pressure stays the same. Gas balloons are use for sport ballooning, scientific research, and many other purposes. These balloons may be filled with hydrogen, helium, or natural gas. The four most important kinds of gas balloons are the sport balloons, expandable balloons, super pressure balloons, and the zero-pressure balloon. The last three are used for scientific purposes.

Ever since the first hot-air balloon in France in 1783, many improvements have been made. Balloons started to reach higher altitudes. In August of 1783, Jean Francois Pilatre, who was the first person to go up in a hot-air balloon, rose 80 feet (24 m). Then many other people who were brave enough, followed in his footsteps. Jacques Alexandre Charles and Marie-Noel Robert made the first flight in a hydrogen balloon in December of 1783. They rose about 2,000 feet (610 m). Then while Robert stepped out of the basket under the balloon, the balloon was relieved of his weight. Charles quickly rose over 9,000 feet (2,700 m). As of September 1862, Coxwell and Glaisher made a record breaking altitude of 39,000 feet (11,887 m). However, the air was so thin and the temperature was so low (12 °F) that they were unconscious when they reached that altitude.

In May, 1961, the current official altitude record was set. Commander Malcolm Ross and Lieutenant Victor A. Prather, Jr. of the US Navy rose 113,740 feet (34,668 m). The name of the balloon was USN Strato-Lab V. This flight was part of a program called Strato-Lab which used experimental high-altitude manned plastic balloons. Prather drowned and died after his Strato-Lab V flight. His pressure suit filled with water as he landed at sea after his record breaking flight.

Even though the highest altitude was 34,668 meters, according to the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, a zero-pressure balloon is capable of rising to an altitude of 140,000 feet (42,000 m).

Cassandra Eng -- 1997

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