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Altitude of the Highest Unmanned Balloon Flight

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Mracek, Anna. History of Balloon Flight. Washington University, St. Louis. "The highest altitude ever achieved by one such unmanned research balloon was 51,820m; this balloon was launched from Chico, California in 1972" 51,820 m
Balloon. 2002. "In 1932 the Swiss physicist Auguste Piccard, one of the major figures in 20th-century ballooning, ascended in a balloon with a sealed spherical gondola to a height of 55,500 ft (17,000 m); since then manned balloons have reached heights of 100,000 ft (30,500 m) and unmanned balloons have exceeded 140,000 ft (42,500 m)." 42,500 m
Langlois, Gaytha A.; Judy Barrett Litoff, Joseph Ilacqua & David Lux. 20th Century. Collaborative Learning at a Distance. Bryant College. "October 1972 ~ A record unmanned balloon flight for highest altitude - The Winzen Research Balloon 170,000 feet (51,816 meters)." 51,816 m
HobbySpace - Near Space "51.82km (170,000 ft. or 32.2mi) - highest altitude for unmanned research balloon - launched from Chico, California in 1972" 51,820 m

Joseph and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier invented the balloon in the late 18th century. They were experimenting with inverted paper and cloth bags filled with heated air. They managed to get a linen bag about a hundred feet in diameter up in the air.

Since the introduction of the balloon by Montgolfier, people have been riding around in balloons for sport and during wartime, the balloon has been used for military strategic purposes. Also, meteorologists use balloons for climatological and weather research. Small balloons are launched carrying instrumentation to measure atmospheric conditions at all altitudes, including the health of the ozone. One such research balloon was the Winzen Research Balloon launched in 1972.

Another important person in the history of ballooning is Otto C. Winzen. He is best known for introducing new balloon materials and construction methods. He emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1937 and studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Detroit. After World War II, he became involved with the rebirth of high-altitude ballooning and paired up with Jean Piccard at General Mills. In 1972, he built the Winzen Research Balloon that achieved a record altitude of 51,816 m over Chico, California.

Today, atmospheric information is most often gathered by height-finding radar, remote sensing by earth-orbiting or stationary satellites, and aircraft instruments, with weather balloons adding to the data.

Valerie Chang -- 2003

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