This photograph shows Maj. William Kepner, Lorena Berry (wife of the governor of South Dakota), and Capt. Albert Stevens christening the stratosphere gondola 'Explorer', on this date, July 11th, in 1934.
The balloon, which launched on July 28th from Rapid City, South Dakota, was part of a project sponsored by the National Geographic Society and the Air Corps to gather information about the earth's stratosphere.
The hydrogen-filled balloon reached a height of 60,613 feet before it was forced to descend due to structural damage that eventually burst the balloon 3,000 feet in the air. Fortunately, the three-person crew (Major Kepner, pilot; Capt. Stevens, scientific observer; and First Lieutenant Orvil A. Anderson, alternate pilot) was able to parachute safely to the ground, landing nearby the balloon in a Nebraska cornfield.
In November 1935, the National Geographic Society and the Air Corps re-attempted the voyage with the more successful 'Explorer II', which returned safely to earth with a mass of scientific data after reaching a record-setting height of 72,395 feet.
This photograph is part of Hagley Library's collection of Lammot du Pont, Jr. collection of aeronautical photographs (Accession 1975.360). The collection is the work of Lammot du Pont, Jr. (1909-1964), who assembled a large collection of books, manuscripts, prints, drawings and photographs relating to the history of aeronautics from the first balloon flights through the 1940s. You can view more digitized material from this collection on its page in our Digital Archive.