Auguste Piccard

Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2005


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Auguste Piccard—Physicist

Jan 28 1884, Basel Switzerland, 11:00 PM, LMT (Source: recorded. According to LMR, Wemyss in Famous Nativities No.143 quotes records.  Same in Astrosophie, 12/1936, from B.R.) Died, March 24, 1962, Lausanne.

(Ascendant, Libra; MC, Cancer with Jupiter in Cancer conjunct the MC; Sun and Moon conjunct in Aquarius; Mercury retrograde in Capricorn; Venus in Pisces;  Mars in Leo; Saturn in Gemini conjunct Pluto in Taurus, with Neptune also in Taurus; Uranus in Virgo)

Inventor of an airtight gondola he attached to a huge balloon, in which he ascended about 53.000 feet in 1932. IN 1953, descended some 10,330 feet into the sea in a bathyscape.))


Uncle Auguste pulled a black beret from an overcoat pocket, offered it to Nephew Jean Auguste.
Nephew: But, Uncle Auguste, I have never worn a hat in my life!
Uncle: Ah! This one, my dear Jean, has been in the stratosphere.


Auguste Piccard

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 of 1927.

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, 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).

The Bathyscaphe 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.

Auguste Piccard 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.


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