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TWO BALLOONISTS WHO FAILED.
The North Pole madness has so invaded the blood of mankind that almost every mode of transportation, short of ox-teams and railroad trains, has been thought of for reaching the goal. Even automobiles have been suggested, though laughed to scorn by those who have experienced the woe of hauling a sledge over an ice-hummock. It was this very difficulty of progress over land and sea that led two men of daring to consider an aerial trip. This, they argued, would necessarily avoid the delay and despair of combating ice-bergs and mountains and be a short, swift, easy route.
To these men the fact that aerial travel itself possesses perils sufficient to daunt most human beings was as nothing. They were enthusiasts in ballooning; and to the enthusiast in that sport it is said even racing through a thunderstorm a mile in air is a joy. But bold as they were, neither came within miles of reaching the north pole. One was a Swede, S. A. Andree; the other, Walter Wellman, an American.
Andree was an engineer in the patent office at Stockholm. He had become an experienced aeronaut, though he had never "set the world on fire," and when he proposed crossing the Atlantic Ocean, from Africa to South America, there were many who approved the scheme — so long as they did not have to join the party. One who approved was Nordenskjold, a well known Arctic traveler, and he it was who gave Andree the idea of trying for the north pole. Andree at once began making definite plans, and securing the necessary money. In 1895 he obtained it, through the aid of King Oscar of Sweden. The sum of $36,000 was subscribed, of which the king himself gave $8,000. Andree passed the following winter in France, where a balloon was specially constructed for him. Following is a description of the craft, published just before the expedition got started:
"It is a double balloon, or rather a balloon in a balloon. The first or inner balloon is made of a specially made silk cloth of three folds and covered with a two-proof varnish. Over this, covering two-thirds of the balloon, comes a cover of cloth highly saturated with oil. The object of the double balloon is that the air between the two balloons will guard against sudden changes of temperature, and also prevent snow and water from gathering on the varnished silk. From the oiled surface it will at once slide off, particularly when the balloon sways from side to side. Instead of the usual ventilator on the top of the balloon these are placed one on each side, as experience has shown that from this ventilator the greatest loss of gas is made. To support the net a heavy iron ring is placed under a wooden roof resembling what is known in polar language as 'Nunatak.' Below the balloon is placed an automatic ventilator opening at a pressure of 10 mm. and permits the escape of superfluous gas.
"A novelty is the broad girdle surrounding the balloon in its lower part. This is for the purpose of guarding against wind pressure. When the lower part of the balloon commences to be empty of gas, the wind makes a hollow in the balloon and the girdle will prevent this.
'The balloon has a diameter of 20.5 meters (one meter is 39.37 inches) and has a volume of 4,500 cubic meters. The gondola is made of wicker, round in form, covered with a roof with two sleeping-places, as there will always be a man on watch. The mattresses will serve as life-preservers in case of necessity, and the gondola has a slanting form to facilitate sliding along the ice if so near an approach to the earth is found necessary. The gondola is also provided with a trapdoor to empty the water if the balloon should take a 'dip.'
"M. Andree has devised an ingenious contrivance for directing the balloon. The efficacy of this device has been tested by a trip. It is composed of a rudder sail secured to the apex of the balloon and to the car by a rope, so that it can move freely, and a guide rope which can be adjusted to different positions for 180 degrees of the circumference of the ring which is secured to the car.
"The guiding is assisted by means of this guide rope, which is allowed to drag on the ground or in the water. The eyelets are intended to receive the hook of this guide rope. When the hook is attached to the central eyelet the balloon will move in the line of the wind, but by adjusting the guide rope to the other eyelets motion in other directions is obtained.
"The balloon carries 23,100 kegs of ballast, provisions for four and a half months, ammunition, a boat, heavy clothing, and every necessity that experience has shown is required."
Andree went to Spitzbergen, arriving there June 19, 1896. The balloon was then inflated, but this took so long that Andree deemed it too late in the season to start, so the expedition was delayed for another year. This change of plan aroused the scoffers, and Andree's exploit became something of a byword; but the explorer was undaunted, and in 1897 he again went to Spitzbergen. The inflation of the balloon was completed this time on June 22, and a few days were spent in making the great craft "seaworthy" in every way. It was given a name — the "Ornen," which is Swedish for eagle. Finally, on July II everything was ready. Andree wrote two messages of thanks, one to a Stockholm newspaper and the other to the King, and he and his two companions climbed in. The names of these companions were Nils Strindberg and Ferdinand Frankel.
Before the crowd of onlookers the balloonists shook hands with their friends and at 2 40 p. m. Andree gave the word, "Cast off." The monster balloon rose in the air, and sailed over the heads of the spectators, while the three men in the basket waved handkerchiefs and shouted last adieus.
And they were last adieus indeed. Those fast-dwindling forms, swaying beneath the great dark gas-bag against the sky, were never seen again. Whether they came down, with gas exhausted, in open water and were drowned, whether they crashed against a berg and so died; or whether they landed in some ice-wilderness and starved, — these are mysteries which iron-hearted nature has thus far refused to reveal.
Wellman's plans were of a different kind. He did not propose to trust to air-currents to waft him across the polar sea, as did Andree, but designed an air craft of the nature of a dirigible balloon, which theoretically could be turned at will.
The bold adventure was backed by a Chicago newspaper, and passed years in making his preparations. Interest of explorers and aeronauts everywhere was aroused, and doubt and confidence were divided. The doubters said that the fickle air would not do what it was claimed it would; the supporters of Wellman urge that, if air ships could travel hours with ease, why not days?
In September, 1907, Wellman made his first start from Spitzbergen. He started boldly and with good hope; but it proved that the machinery of his craft was too delicate; and after the balloon had proceeded a short distance, something went wrong with the guide-rope, which, like Andree, Wellman had trailing after the airship. The balloon crashed against the side of an ice mountain, and was badly disabled. Fortunately none on board was injured, and all returned to Europe in safety. Of course, however, no further attempt was made that year. Again, in August, 1909, Wellman got his ship and his men together and prepared to start, but this, too, ended in failure.