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New museum celebrates the history of ballooning

AP PhotoThe Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum, designed to look like a balloon about to launch, is pictured in Albuquerque, N.M., Sept. 14. The museum, scheduled to open Oct. 1, coinciding with the Albuquerque's annual Balloon Fiesta, will have interactive computer exhibits, an expansive display of ballooning memorabilia and displays of record-setting balloons.
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – One look at the autumn sky here, dotted each morning with colorful hot-air balloons, shows why the city has come to be known as the “Balloon Capital of the World.”That reputation will only grow next month with the opening of a unique museum devoted to the rich history of this most graceful form of flight.The Anderson-Abruzzo International Balloon Museum is scheduled to open Oct. 1, coinciding with the Albuquerque’s annual Balloon Fiesta, which starts the day before and draws people from around the world.”For people who aren’t balloonists … there’s a sense of wonder about how these things get up in the air. And who are these people that wake up so early in the morning to do this?” said Marilee Schmit Nason, curator of collections for the new museum. “Our museum will answer those questions and the questions people never knew to ask.”

Using interactive computerized exhibits, an expansive collection of ballooning memorabilia and displays of record-setting balloons, the city hopes to bring to life the history of ballooning.The displays, assembled from the collections of famous balloonists worldwide, will make their home in a new $20 million building. Architect Marc Shiff designed the building to look like a balloon about to launch.Schmit Nason said she’s excited that exhibits will include relics as old as ballooning itself.For example, one display will show a handwritten letter with a watercolor picture by LeSuer Phillipe. The Frenchman witnessed what is believed to be the world’s first balloon flight in 1783.

It didn’t take long for ballooning to become a popular amusement for people. In the 1800s, people attending festivals and fairs around the globe paid money for short balloon rides. A local saloon owner, Park Van Tassel, launched Albuquerque’s first gas balloon in 1882, named appropriately, “The City of Albuquerque.”As early as 1860, balloons also were used for advertising, as evidenced by a perfume bottle-shaped balloon in Victorian England.”There were a lot of people who saw the possibility of making money from balloons,” Schmit Nason said. “In some places, there were people paying money to be allowed to jump from the balloon with a parachute.”There are two types of balloons: hot air and gas.



Hot-air balloons float because air inside the balloon is hotter than the air outside. Since hot air rises, enough of it will lift the balloon, and whatever’s attached, into the air. Gas balloons – filled with helium or hydrogen – float because those gases are lighter than air.Schmit Nason said she hopes that foreign visitors will be impressed to find their countries’ flying history represented at the museum.For example, the museum will feature a token commemorating a Mexico City flight in 1892, a kimono-style jacket worn by a Japanese balloonist in 1994 and parts of a bomb-dropping device used by Germany during WWI.Albuquerque’s second balloon, which flew in 1907 and is known simply as “Albuquerque,” will be on exhibit, too. Other history-making balloons that attempted to set world records also will be on display.

Ballooning was revived in Albuquerque in 1971 when aviator Sid Cutter decided to fly a balloon to commemorate his mother’s birthday. He enjoyed the ride so much that he learned how to fly and then invited balloonists from around the world to gather here for the first international balloon festival.Cutter said he liked both hot air and gas ballooning, but preferred gas. Hot-air balloons generally are larger and prettier, painted in more colorful designs, he said. That’s partly because they’re designed to fly only for an hour or two at time. Gas balloons, by contrast, are sturdier – designed for longer hauls – three days or so.With the new museum in place, children and tourists will have a chance to learn hands-on about what they’re watching float in the sky, said Melanie LaBorwit, the museum’s curator of education.Some of the exhibits will let visitors plan the logistics of a mock balloon flight. They’ll have to make decisions ranging from what type of fuel to use to how much food to carry. Like real balloon pilots, visitors will gain an understanding of geography, how to tie knots, what type of fabrics fly best and the physics of keeping a balloon afloat.”Some of our exhibits will be like a game, but you’re learning as you go,” LaBorwit said.


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