- Grades: 6–8, 9–12
The Swiss-born stratosphere and deep-ocean explorer Auguste Piccard, b. Jan. 28, 1884, d. Mar. 24, 1962, with his associate Paul Kipfer, made (May 27, 1931) the first manned balloon flight into the stratosphere, setting a new altitude record of 15,781 m (51,775 ft). For this flight he designed the first pressurized cabin. Hampered by equipment failures, the flight ended on an Austrian glacier after 17 hours aloft. The following summer the same balloon took Piccard and Max Cosyns to an altitude of 16,201 m (53,153 ft). This second successful flight vindicated the project completely, and other countries began constructing stratospheric balloons. Piccard continued to make flights (27 in all) until 1937, when his interest turned toward exploring the ocean bottom.
A physician by profession, Piccard took ten years to build his first bathyscaphe, a free-moving vehicle for deep-sea descents. Designed to float in water as a balloon floats in air, by using ballast, it maneuvered with two propellers and could stop in mid-dive. An unmanned dive to 1,388 m (4,554 ft) proved the basic design. Financed by private industry, Piccard and his son, Jacques (b. July 28, 1922), built a second bathyscaphe, the Trieste, and in 1953 successfully dived to 3,150 m (10,330 ft).
At the time of his death Auguste Piccard was designing a new vehicle, the mesoscaphe, to range at 1,500 to 4,600 m (5,000 to 15,000 ft) and collect specimens. His son completed the project and launched the Auguste Piccard in 1964. A second mesoscaphe, built in 1968, traveled the Gulf Stream from Florida to Cape Cod to study the current's marine life.
Between 1954 and 1956, Jacques Piccard made six more dives, gathering valuable data and descending to over 3,700 m (12,000 ft). In 1958 the U.S. Office of Naval Research bought the Trieste. Two years later Jacques Piccard and Lt. Don Walsh of the U.S. Navy descended 10,920 m (35,800 ft) to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest place known beneath the sea.
Jacques Piccard's son Bertrand, b. Mar. 1, 1958, inherited his grandfather's interest in aerial exploration. In March 1999 the Swiss psychiatrist and his British partner, Brian Jones, completed the first successful nonstop trip around the world by balloon. The Breitling Orbiter 3 circumnavigated the globe in about 20 days. This was Bertrand Piccard's third attempt at this feat.
Bibliography: Field, Adelaide, Auguste Piccard (1969); McMurray, Emily J., and Olendorf, Donna, ed., Notable 20th Century Scientists, 4 vols. (1995); Malkus, Alida, Exploring the Sky and Sea: Auguste and Jacques Piccard (1961); Piccard, Auguste, Earth, Sky and Sea, trans. by Christina Stead (1956); Saari, Peggy, and Baker, D. B., Explorers and Discoverers (1993).