Auguste Piccard (1927)Auguste Antoine Piccard (January 28, 1884 –
March 24, 1962) was a Swiss physicist, inventor and explorer. Piccard
and his twin brother Jean Felix were born in Basel, Switzerland. Showing
an intense interest in science as a child, he attended the Swiss Federal
Institute of Technology in Zurich, 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. He was a member of the Solvay Congress
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
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, launched 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-1930s,
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 had designed a small steel gondola to withstand
great external pressure. Construction began, but was interrupted by
the outbreak of war. Resuming work in 1945, he completed the steel gondola
for personnel 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 given
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).
TriesteWith 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 on, before selling her to the U.S. 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.
died 1962 in Lausanne, Switzerland. His grandson Bertrand Piccard also
became a balloonist, taking part in the first world circumnavigation.
The Swiss scientist
Auguste Piccard (1884-1962) is famed for his explorations of the stratosphere
and the ocean depths.
Born into an academic
family in Basel on Jan. 28, 1884, Auguste Piccard was educated there
and at the Zurich Polytechnic. From 1907 he taught in Zurich, was early
interested in aviation, and studied the behavior of balloons. In 1922
he went to Brussels University as professor of physics, where he remained
until 1954 (except during the war years, which he spent in Switzerland).
He wished to investigate the physics of the stratosphere, a region which
was beyond the range of sensitive automatic instruments until the advent
of electronics and continuous radio monitoring from the ground. Supported
by the Belgian Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique, in 1930
Piccard designed a hydrogen balloon supporting an airtight cabin to
carry an observer into the stratosphere. With this balloon (named FNRS)
in 1931-1932 he reached record heights of over 50, 000 feet. Thus was
a new era of scientific exploration opened. Lack of funds prevented
his participation in further flights.
In 1937 Piccard
turned to deep-sea exploration and developed the bathyscaphe, the underwater
analog of his stratosphere balloon. Aided again by the Belgian foundation,
work began but was interrupted by war. Thus the first bathyscaphe, FNRS
2, was not completed until 1948. It consisted of a strong spherical
cast-steel capsule with Plexiglas windows supported by a lightly constructed
float filled with petroleum. As in an air balloon, vertical movement
was controlled by the release of ballast or supporting fluid. In the
bathyscaphe iron-shot ballast was retained by energized electromagnets
and released by interrupting the current. Dives off Dakar in 1948 proved
the utility of the system.
In 1950 the vessel
was transferred to the French navy and a new bathyscaphe, FNRS 3, was
constructed. Initially under the direction of Piccard, it utilized the
pressure capsule and much essential equipment from the FNRS 2. But difficulties
with the French and contacts made in Italy by Piccard's son, Jacques,
led to their building a third bathyscaphe, the Trieste, with Swiss and
Italian funds in 1952-1953. Essentially similar to the FNRS vessels,
the new bathyscaphe had many improvements, including a forged-steel
capsule. A successful dive of more than 10, 000 feet was completed off
Capri in 1953. Shortage of funds hampered research until 1957, when
support was received from the U.S. Navy. After evaluation the Trieste
was purchased and shipped to San Diego. In 1960, with a strengthened
observation capsule and increased buoyancy, the bathyscaphe dived 35,
800 feet to the bottom of the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench
off Guam, the world's deepest known hole.
From 1954 Piccard
led an active retirement in Lausanne, where he died on March 24, 1962.
Most of the Trieste's work after 1953 was directed by Jacques Piccard.