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Auguste and Jean Piccard



Pioneer Aeronauts

Auguste Piccard: 1884-1962

Jean Piccard: 1884-1963

Auguste and Jean Piccard, twin brothers, were born in Basel, Switzerland, on 28 January 1884. Auguste became a physicist, and Jean an organic chemist and aeronautical engineer. Each earned a doctorate in natural science from the Swiss Institute of Technology, and devoted his adult life to scientific research and education. They contributed significantly to the advancement of scientific knowledge of the stratosphere, ballooning and of the means for man to survive in a high altitude environment. Although the brothers were physically separated most of their lives, they collaborated on their research efforts throughout their careers.

Auguste is best known in the aerospace field for his design of a pressurized balloon gondola and its successful application to high altitude operation. Convinced that survival in the stratosphere required a pressurized cabin, Auguste, in 1930, devised a spherical aluminum gondola which could be pressurized to approximate sea level pressure, and which was equipped with a system for reusing its own air supply. On 27 May 1931, Auguste and a young assistant ascended from Augsburg, Germany, and reached a record altitude of 15,785 m. (51,775 ft). Later, on 18 August 1932, he made a second record-breaking ascent to 16,200 m. (53,152 ft). Auguste's brilliant and innovative development of the pressurized gondola as well as his spectacular high altitude flights contributed substantially to the international body of aeronautical knowledge, and were important technical preliminaries to eventually putting man safely in space.

Following his great success in high altitude research, Auguste turned his considerable intellect and energy to successful deep sea research utilizing submersibles. He died in Lausanne, Switzerland, on 24 March, 1962.

Jean Piccard, like his twin brother, was interested from an early age in high altitude balloon flight. He moved to the United States in 1926 and continued to collaborate with his brother in the development of the stratosphere balloon. Following his bother's record high altitude flights, Jean and his wife made a balloon ascension from Dearborn, Michigan on 23 October 1934 and reached an altitude of 17,672 m. (57,979 ft). During the course of this flight, they tested a liquid oxygen system. As a result of the experience gained on this night, Jean was instrumental in the development of a liquid oxygen converter for use in balloons and high flying aircraft. In 1936, he developed and launched the first plastic film balloon, which was the forerunner of modern balloons. He later devised the multiple balloon concept and in 1937 made the first manned ascent utilizing multiple balloons. He was also instrumental in the design of polyethylene high altitude balloons which permitted successful manned flights to altitudes in excess of 30,480 m. (100,000 ft).

His inventiveness continued with the development of various aerospace devices, including a remote pyrotechnic actuating device and frost-free aircraft windows. Jean Piccard retired in 1952, and died in Minneapolis, Minnesota on 28 January 1963.

Invested 1991 in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame

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Updated: October 11, 2004