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The Victorians Who Flew As High As Jumbo Jets

Scientist James Glaisher and balloonist Henry Coxwell took a trip in a balloon on September 5, 1862. More than just the thrill of travel, Glaisher wanted to explore the upper atmosphere to determine how weather phenomena developed. While most aeronauts stayed within sight of the ground, he wanted to fly higher than ever. But no one knew what conditions were like miles above the earth. It almost cost him his life.

As they rose beyond five miles, however, the temperature dropped below -20C, and he began to notice difficulties with his vision. “I could not see the fine column of the mercury in the wet-bulb thermometer; nor the hands of the watch, nor the fine divisions on any instrument.” Clearly, they needed to descend – yet the balloon’s valve-line had become entangled in the other ropes. Coxwell had to climb out of the basket to release it, but while he was dangerously clambering among the rigging, Glaisher was slowly losing consciousness.   

Glaisher and Cowell survived that flight, although not all of the experimental pigeons they took with them did. Read the story of how Glaisher went to an estimated altitude of 37,000 feet in an open balloon at BBC Future. -via Digg

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