November 11, 1935
U.S. Army Air Corps Captains Albert W. Stevens and Orvil A. Anderson, traveling in the high-altitude helium balloon Explorer II, established a record altitude of 72,395 feet (22,066 meters) for manned balloons. This airborne journey took place in the skies above South Dakota. “Successful Flight into Stratosphere,” read the headline for an article in the Nebraska-based Lexington Clipper reporting on what Stevens and Anderson achieved while on board Explorer II. The funding for the flight had been provided by members of the National Geographic Society.
That record-setting flight of Explorer II was launched at 8:00 from the Stratobowl, a compact natural depression in the section of the Black Hills National Forest that is in the Mount Rushmore State. Stevens and Anderson subsequently covered 225 miles (362 kilometers) in the balloon before landing it safely near the city of White Lake, South Dakota, at 4:13 p.m. (The above photo taken in 2008 shows the gondola, or spherical cabin, of Explorer II as it is now displayed at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.)
The flight altitude record for manned balloons that was set by Explorer II and its two-person crew remained intact until 1956, when U.S. Naval Reserve Captain Malcolm Ross and U.S. Navy Captain Morton Lee Lewis soared up to 76,000 feet (23,000 meters) above the earth while traveling a total of 175 miles (282 kilometers) in the Strato-Lab High I balloon between the Stratobowl and Cherry County, Nebraska.
Photo Credit: Cliff (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)
For more information on Explorer II, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Explorer_II