In early 1933, Captain Albert W. Stevens of the U.S. Army Air Corps proposed to his superiors that the Army undertake an ambitious stratosphere balloon flight. Stevens, trained as a mining engineer, had become an expert on aerial photography while serving in WWI and later became Chief of the Army Air Corps photography lab. Since the mid-1920s he promoted stratosphere balloon flights as the most promising way to gather data on cosmic rays and similar celestial phenomena. The National Geographic Society (NGS) funded a project based on Stevens’ belief that data could be obtained by using a massive balloon that would remain aloft long enough to gather the needed data.
The first launch took place on July 28, 1934 when Major William Kepner, Captain Albert W. Stevens, and Captain Orvil A. Anderson took off in the Explorer I. Hoping to rise 15 miles into the stratosphere, they ascended to 60,613 feet (11 miles) before a rip in the balloon forced them to bail out of the gondola. As they neared the ground at the rate of a mile a minute, the balloon exploded and the crew parachuted to safety before the gondola slammed into a cornfield near Loomis, Nebraska. Many of the instruments were smashed, but some valuable data was recovered including the highest altitude photographs of Earth yet made.
On November 11, 1935 before a crowd of soldiers, scientists, engineers, and members of the Sioux Nation, Explorer II launched and climbed to 72,395 feet (nearly 14 miles). Captain Albert W. Stevens and Captain Orvil A. Anderson monitored the performance of scientific instruments while maintaining perfect radio contact with the ground. Explorer II drifted approximately 225 miles to the east before landing intact. Stevens and Anderson were awarded the NGS’ highest honor, the Hubbard Medal, for their feat.
This Published photographs section for the Stratosphere Expeditions Collection contains 356 B&W images published in National Geographic Magazine and in the Technical Papers for the "The National Geographic Society - U.S. Army Air Corps Stratosphere Flight of 1935 in Balloon 'Explorer II'". Publication information is noted with each individual image in this subseries.
Not yet digitized.
This Negatives section for the Stratosphere Expeditions Collection contains 1,783 B&W image. Many of these images have a duplicate photo that is found in one of the albums within the Album Subseries. Information of which album to find the duplicate photo is noted with each individual image in this subseries.
The film and media assets for the Stratosphere Expeditions Collection consist of over 80 video and audio assets that document the launch, flight, and crash of Explorer I in 1934, as well as the successful launch and flight of Explorer II in 1935.
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We are extremely grateful for the knowledge and expertise provided by Charlie Gannon in creating inventories and accompanying descriptions for all 27 photo albums in the Stratosphere Expeditions Collection.
A retired project manager, Charlie Gannon worked 38 years in the heavy-civil construction field. For the past 40 years his avocation has been everything "National Geographic Society." As a dedicated collector, he became interested in the NGS-USAAC Stratosphere flights with special interest in Lt. Col. Albert W. Stevens (Ret.). He has spent over 20 years researching Stevens' life and exploits.