On January 28, 1884, Belgian physicist, inventor, and extremes explorer Auguste Piccard was born in Switzerland… a few minutes after his physicist-chemist brother Jean-Felix.
Auguste conducted atmospheric research using balloon flight and was well into the public eye when the University of Brussels offered him the post of Chair of Applied Physics. His balloon ascents in earlier studies of cosmic rays had taught Piccard that a new balloon that went higher required several innovative features. To travel higher and remain safe, he developed an airtight, air-pressurized cabin. The balloon would have to lift off without being fully filled because it would swell as it rose into the lowering external pressure of high altitude. Piccard’s first ascent reached close to 16 km (10 mi) a record he surpassed in his next refinement of a new radio-equipped cabin. He made over two dozen flights and eventually reached just over 21 km (13 mi) by balloon.
Piccard was equally interested in exploring in the other direction and began devising the revolutionary, deep-ocean bathyscaphe from the Ancient Greek bathys [deep] and skaphos [ship]. The cabin and cables that he designed withstood all undersea pressures but the floats used to raise the bathyscaphe to the surface were less sturdy. By this time, Piccard’s son was into the mix and it was oceanic explorer Jacques Piccard who eventually solved the floats problem so that Auguste Piccard realized his dream of researching at will – at height and at depth – in vehicles of his own design.
Auguste Piccard was tall, gangly and an easily recognized science star as he strode the streets of Brussels. Graphic artist Hergé was inspired to capture Piccard’s essence in a more diminutive frame, to create Professor Calculus who, like Piccard, could create vehicles that flew high or dived deep depending on the demands of the Tintin story line.
Meanwhile, working in the U.S.A., Jean-Felix Piccard and his wife were testing a liquid oxygen converter system for stratospheric flight. Having become an aeronautical engineer, he developed plastic film balloons down to a 1/1000 in thickness, balloon clusters, and frost-resistant windows for ultra-high altitude flight.
Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek and also captivated by the Piccard twins, created the character Jean-Luc Picard to captain the Star Ship Enterprise.
High fliers, all. The scientist-inventor-explorer Piccard family continues into its fourth generation… and is on to solar flight.
B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage