On May 27, 1931, Auguste Piccard 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 Dübendorf, 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 his high altitude balloon cockpit 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 World War Two. Resuming work in 1945, he completed the bubble-shaped cockpit that maintained normal air pressure for a person inside the capsule even as the water pressure outside increased to over 6,800 pounds per square inch. Above the heavy steel capsule, a large flotation tank was attached and filled with a low density liquid for buoyancy. Liquids are relatively incompressable and can provide buoyancy that does not change as the pressure increases. And so, the huge tank was filled with gasoline, not as a fuel, but as flotation. To make the now floating craft sink, tons of iron were attached to the float with a release mechanism to allow resurfacing. 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).
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 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.
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