Alibi V.24 No.40 • Oct 1-7, 2015 

Feature

Beyond Ballooning

Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum expands its mission

Museum director Paul Garver and friend.
Museum director Paul Garver and friend.
Ty Bannerman

On July 14, 1897, a gas balloon crash-landed onto the pack ice of the frozen north. The three men who emerged, unharmed, from its basket were Swedish explorers S.A. Andrée, Nils Strindberg and Knut Fraenkel. They had hoped to float their balloon, Örnen, or The Eagle, effortlessly over the Arctic until they triumphantly crossed the North Pole. However, their expedition had almost immediately gone awry. The drag lines which they had hoped to use for steering had snapped off, the balloon had ridden too high at first, and then, as the envelope leaked hydrogen into the cold, thin air, it had brought them perilously close to the ground. For the 41 hours previous to their landing, the basket had bumped along the ice before coming to its final resting place.

Nils Strindberg
The crashed Örnen.

The expedition, which the men had optimistically hoped to last for 30 days of flight, had come to a fateful halt after only two. Over the next three months the men would struggle to find a way to return home, but their luck would only get worse. By early October of that year all three would be dead.

“They failed, but were they failures?” asks Paul Garver, incoming director of the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum. “What does it mean, the drive to explore, to discover, to achieve? What constitutes success in the face of failure?”

Garver and other museum staff are currently hard at work on “Arctic Air: The Bold Journey of S.A. Andrée,” an exhibit slated to open in late spring of 2016 that they hope will have visitors asking these questions themselves. But rather than just retelling Andrée’s story, “Arctic Air” will use the expedition as a jumping off point to investigate questions of science, engineering, meteorology and even oceanography.

“As daring and dramatic as that was for a ballooning expedition, it was also a very heavily scientific expedition,” says Garver. “And we’re looking at that story as a way to draw out elements and tie them to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum. Or to public programs that relate to the Arctic or wildlife.”

“They failed, but were they failures?” asks Paul Garver, incoming director of the Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum. “What does it mean, the drive to explore, to discover, to achieve? What constitutes success in the face of failure?”

This multifaceted approach is emblematic of the museum’s evolving mission to use the idea and story of ballooning as a way to educate visitors in STEM elements. In addition to “Arctic Air,” the museum is also developing an “interactive meteorological experience” where visitors will be able to learn about and experiment with scientific concepts related to weather.

“This will be a space that basically teaches people about the weather from the macro to the micro. It will start with the sun and wind and clouds, as well as precipitation and storms,” says Garver, noting that the exhibit will be officially announced by the mayor on October 9, and that museum guests who stop in during the week of Balloon Fiesta will be able to see a preview. “There will even be an explanation of Albuquerque’s weather and the Box,” Garver continues, referring to the predictable wind patterns that make the city ideal for ballooning. “Really, this is a scientific experience that will help people understand how our relationship with weather is so important.”

“As I always say, ballooning at the museum is the gateway to scientific exploration and discovery. We have all kinds of STEM-related lessons we can explore, using ballooning as a launchpad.”

Visitors won’t have to wait until next year to see all the new exhibits, however. Currently, the museum is hosting a retrospective on its 10 year existence, as well as showcasing the America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race, which launches yearly from the Fiesta.

Also, the gondola from the Two Eagles gas balloon, which Troy Bradley and Leonid Tiukhtyaev recently piloted to a world-record-breaking trans-Pacific flight, will be installed in the museum this week.

“[The Two Eagles] has a special relationship to the museum,” explains Garver. “On our opening day, 10 years ago, Troy Bradley had the gondola out back and was starting to tell people about his planned trans-Pacific flight. And here it is, 10 years later and he succeeded in setting the record and now [Two Eagles] will be hung in the hall.”