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Auguste Piccard

Auguste Piccard (January 28, 1884March 24, 1962) was a Swiss inventor.

Piccard and his twin brother Jean-Felix were born in Basel, Switzerland. Showing an intense interest in science as a child, he attended the Federal Polytechnic School of Switzerland, and became a professor of physics in Brussels at the Free University of Brussels in 1922, the same year his son Jacques Piccard was born.

In 1930, an interest in ballooning, and a curiosity about the upper atmosphere led him to design a spherical, pressurized aluminum gondola which would allow ascent to great altitude without requiring a pressure suit. Supported by the Belgian Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS) Piccard constructed his gondola.

On May 27, 1931, Auguste and Paul Kipfer took off from Augsburg, Germany, and reached a record altitude of 15,785 m (51,775 ft). During this flight, Piccard was able to gather substantial data on the upper atmosphere, as well as measure cosmic rays. On August 18, 1932, lauched from Zürich, Switzerland, Piccard and Max Cosyns made a second record-breaking ascent to 16,200 m (53,152 ft). He ultimately made a total of twenty-seven balloon flights setting a final record of 23,000 m (72,177 ft).

In the mid '30s, Piccard's interests shifted when he realized that a modification of some of his atmospheric balloon concepts would allow descent into the deep ocean. By 1937, he'd designed a small steel gondola to withstand great external pressure, construction began but was interrupted by the outbreak of war. Resuming work in 1945 the steel gondola for personnel was completed and a large float was attached for buoyancy using gasoline as the medium. To make the now floating craft sink, tons of iron were attached to the float with a release mechanism. This craft was named FNRS-2 and made a number of unmanned dives in 1948 before being gifted to the French navy in 1950. There it was redesigned, and in 1954 it took a man safely down 4,176 m (13,700 ft).

With the experience of FNRS-2 Piccard and his son Jacques built the improved Bathyscaphe Trieste. Jacques Piccard made many dives, mainly off Italy, from 1954 before before selling her to the US Navy in 1957 for $250,000. On her 65th dive, the younger Piccard and Lt. Don Walsh of the U.S. Navy reached a depth 35,800 ft in the Mariana Trench, a few hundred miles from Guam, setting a new record. Jacques' book Seven Miles Down tells the full story of the FNRS-2 and Trieste.

Auguste Piccard died 1962 in Lausanne, Switzerland. His grandson Bertrand Piccard also became a balloonist, taking part in the first world circumnavigation.

Auguste Piccard is supposed to have been the inspiration for Professor Cuthbert Calculus (French: Professeur Tryphon Tournesol, German: Professor Bienlein) in Tintin.

Last updated: 05-07-2005 12:24:05
Last updated: 05-07-2005 18:09:53