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Falling Upwards

How We Took to The Air

By Richard Holmes
15-minute read
Audio available
Falling Upwards: How We Took to The Air by Richard Holmes

Falling Upwards (2014) details the surprisingly rich history of hot-air balloons. It begins with the first successful human attempts to take to the air using balloons and goes on to chronicle their clandestine role in escape attempts and military ventures. From daring balloonists from the golden age of ballooning to the literature they inspired, it’s all covered here.

  • Anyone with a taste for exploration and invention
  • Science enthusiasts
  • Historians of science

Richard Holmes is a prize-winning author, best known for his nonfiction book The Age of Wonder, which details scientific development at the end of the eighteenth century. He has also written numerous celebrated biographies, including a life of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

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Falling Upwards

How We Took to The Air

By Richard Holmes
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
Falling Upwards: How We Took to The Air by Richard Holmes
Synopsis

Falling Upwards (2014) details the surprisingly rich history of hot-air balloons. It begins with the first successful human attempts to take to the air using balloons and goes on to chronicle their clandestine role in escape attempts and military ventures. From daring balloonists from the golden age of ballooning to the literature they inspired, it’s all covered here.

Key idea 1 of 9

Ballooning is not for the faint of heart.

It there’s one characteristic still associated with ballooning, it’s eccentricity. After all, it’s hardly a common pastime. But piloting a hot-air balloon is by no means a whimsical whooshing amid the clouds. Getting airborne and flying off into the sky is risky, even to this day.

In 2008, a Brazilian priest and experienced balloonist, Father Adelir Antonio de Carli, had an idea. He wanted to raise money for the poor. His means were unconventional: ballooning for charity. He strapped himself into a chair lashed to hundreds of colored helium balloons and started his ascent.

At first, all went well. Father Adelir climbed to 19,000 feet. But then his GPS navigator failed and he lost radio contact. The wind drove him out to sea. A rescue party was dispatched, but to no avail. In July, the remains of Father Adelir's body were found floating about 100 kilometers off the Brazilian coast. In all likelihood, some of the helium balloons had burst at high altitude. Father Adelir would have descended gently to the ocean, where sharks swam waiting for him.

And, of course, what’s risky now was dangerous in the past, too. In fact, even Father Adelir’s charity balloon flight wasn’t the first of its kind. In 1875, Major John Money took to the skies in his balloon in England for the local Norwich and Norfolk hospital.

The major’s experience was similar to the priest’s. The launch was pitch-perfect. Once in the air, however, the balloon was caught by a gust and pulled out to sea.

Thankfully, however, Major Money survived. When the rapidly deflating balloon sank to sea level, he cut off the weighty basket and hoisted himself into the balloon hoop. Like a modern day kite surfer, he was dragged through the water. Hours later, a rescue boat found him. Needless to say, the donations to the hospital were substantial.

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