First person to reach the stratosphere
Auguste Piccard, Charles Kipfer
first first
Germany (Augsburg)

The first people to enter the stratosphere were physicist Auguste Piccard and his assistant Charles Kipfer (both CHE), who flew to an altitude of 15,781 m (51,775 ft) on 27 May 1931 in a gas-filled balloon designed by Piccard. This flight, which took of from Augsburg in Germany and landed near the village of Gurgl in Austria, broke the previous FAI altitude record by more than 2,600 m (8,530 ft).

Auguste Piccard was an internationally respected physicist -- he discovered Uranium-235 and was one of the delegates at the influential 1927 Solvay Conference along with such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr and Marie Curie. He was not content, however, to limit himself to a career of chalkboard equations and laboratory experiments. Piccard famously stated that "exploration is the sport of scientists" -- a chance to combine research with adventure.

He began working with high altitude balloons in the mid-1900s, and in 1913 carried out his first experimental flight with his twin brother and fellow adventurer Jean-Felix. In 1926 he repeated the Michelson–Morley experiment (designed to prove or disprove the existence of a proposed form of matter called "luminiferous aether") in a balloon at an altitude of 2,500 m (8,200 ft), further validating Albert Einstein's theory of special relativity.

In 1931, the year after his record-setting flight, Piccard made another balloon ascent, reaching an altitude of 16,201 m (53,150 ft). This was his last record-breaking flight. Speaking afterwards, he told the press, "It will be a great day for me when other stratospheric balloonists come along and exceed the altitudes I reached. My aim is not to beat records, and still less to retain them, but to open up a new zone for scientific research and air navigation." Before Piccard made his record-breaking flights, people were not sure if humans could survive a flight into the stratosphere, even protected by a pressurized cabin.

Having achieved what he wanted to achieve in the field of high-altitude research, Piccard returned to an idea he'd first proposed in 1905 -- the Bathyscaphe, a immensely strong submersible, designed to reach the deepest depths of the ocean. Working with his son, Jacques Piccard, Auguste created the submarine Trieste. On 30 September 1953, the father-and-son team broke the record for deepest dive, descending to 3,150 m (10,340 ft) off the coast of Ponza, Italy. On 23 January 1960, with Jacques and US Navy diver Don Walsh at the controls, the Trieste became the first crewed submarine to reach the Challenger Deep, setting a depth record that would remain unbroken for more than 60 years.

In addition to his important contributions to science and exploration, Auguste Piccard also left his mark on popular culture. He was a famously eccentric man, easily recognized on the street by his pointed goatee, matching green bowler hat and raincoat, and home made multi-lens telescopic glasses. When he was teaching in Brussels, this figure caught the eye of Belgian illustrator and writer Hergé, who used Piccard as the model for the character of Professor Calculus in the Tintin series.