Science: Tugging at the Ropes

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In the atomic age, 61 -year-old Dr. Jean Piccard, talking about his stratosphere gondola, sounds a little like a kind-faced granddaddy reminiscing about the fringe-topped surrey. Yet the Piccard plan for another balloon trip to the stratosphere—his first since 1934—interested scientists last week. Many, notably the Russians, believe that cosmic rays in the stratosphere hold the secrets to new atomic knowledge—perhaps bigger & better atomic bombs. If man can rise high enough, perhaps 20 miles (100,000 feet), he might dig around in these secrets. Jean Piccard thinks he can do it.

Now professor of aeronautics at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Piccard wants a gondola hoisted by 100 balloons arranged in a cluster. Each will be made of thin plastic material capable of swelling to 100,000-cubic-ft. capacity in the stratosphere. He tested the cluster idea in 1937 when he hitched himself to 95 four-ft. rubber balloons, went up to 11,000 feet over Rochester, Minn. He had to shoot himself down, plunking some of the balloons off with a .22 revolver, and eventually landed unhurt on an Iowa farm.

All he needs now is a financial angel to pay the estimated $200,000 costs. Then, with his pilot wife, Jeannette, he will try to break the ten-year-old altitude record (72,395 feet) set by a U.S. Army and National Geographic Society balloon.

If Professor Piccard can convince the generals and statesmen that he might come down with some new atomic secrets, the $200,000 may be forthcoming.