South Dakota December 10, 2017
The Spot In South Dakota’s Black Hills Where History Was Made
South Dakota’s Black Hills are full of treasures, from quaint little towns, to waterfalls, hiking trails and lakes, to the man-made majesty of Mount Rushmore. This part of the state is full of history, too. The Wild West drama and danger of Deadwood, the rich gold mining history, and in the 1930s, some record-breaking scientific work.
In the early 1930s, the idea of space exploration was exciting and new. Knowledge and technology were beginning to make it possible to reach to the edges of Earth's atmosphere.
To start exploring space, we first had to learn about the layers of the atmosphere that separate Earth from outer space. People all over the world began attempting aircraft to try to reach the stratosphere. The National Geographic Society and the United States Army Air Corps teamed up to launch a manned balloon.
First, the scientists needed a large field, but one that was surrounded by mountains to protect the balloon from wind.
This 400-foot-deep natural depression in a box canyon in the Black Hills looked like the perfect launching spot. They called it "The Stratobowl."
The first balloon, launched in 1934, was called the
Three men, Captain Albert William Stevens, Captain Orvil Arson Anderson, and Major William E. Kepner, were chosen to man the balloon. The photo above shows Capt. Stevens and Capt. Anderson.
It lifted off on July 24, 1934 lifted off with crowds of 30,000 watching.
After seven hours, the balloon reached a height of 71,554 feet, before the men noticed that holes had developed in parts of the balloon. It started to plummet back to Earth, and the men were just barely able to eject safely before it exploded.
On November, 11 1935, a second balloon, the
Explorer II launched with the same three men aboard.
This time, more than 200,000 people were in attendance. The balloon reached a record-breaking height of 72,395 feet, and the men became the first to view the curvature of the Earth.
Scientists went on to launch 11 more balloons in the 1950s.
Strato-Lab IV, launched on November 28, 1959, reached a height of 81,000. All the balloons provided scientists with important data that was needed to launch spacecraft into space. This era was the first step toward space exploration, and South Dakota played an important role.
To reach the Stratobowl, hike the Stratobowl Trail, which you can find off Highway 16, east of Rockerville.
The trail is just 1.7 miles long, and is considered easy to navigate. The Stratobowl hosts a Historic Hot Air Balloon Event every September.
I think South Dakota’s history is fascinating — do you agree? Here’s an interesting story about a
South Dakota bank robbery that went awry — and the characters are pretty infamous.