Objectives of the project
StratoCat (a contraction of the terms Stratospheric and Catalogue) aims to document and make available throught the internet, everything related to the history, development and use of man's first aerial vehicle, both in scientific research, as well in the military field or aerospace activity.
While the main goal is a historic one, StratoCat will not be limited only to that, as the scientific ballooning is an activity that evolves constantly and even now, when space flight and exploration missions are almost routine, it continues to offer a key research tool for large segments of astronomy, astrophysics, atmospheric science and technology.
This scientific activity -with a few exceptions- do not receive the media coverage that deserves, so in this context StratoCat was born to also fill these informative gaps.
Organization of the contents
The "heart" of StratoCat is contained in a unique database composed currently by more than 11.000 records. Along 60 fields of data each record stores information on every stratospheric balloon launched since 1947, including information related to the balloon itself, the kind of experiment transported and several others complementary data fields. The information published on the website, is some sort of "window" showing a fraction of all such information.
The data structure of the website is divided in two main sections: one devoted to list stratospheric balloon launches, in chronological order and another one, focused on the history of the several launch bases that exists or once existed around the world, including the record of balloon launches for each one. In some cases we elaborated detailed flight reports for specific missions containing very detailed data on all aspects of it: balloon operation, scientific instrumentation carried onboard and flight results. Also when available we include pictures, videos and external links to related content or peer-reviewed bibliography.
A third section of the website is named Balloon Tales. It includes articles on several topics related to scientific ballooning ranging from historical accounts to first hand experiences in the field or a timeline of a specific subject.
Finally, in the last few months we added a new section called Stratopedia, intended to become some sort of humble "Balloon Encyclopedia" offering a listing and a brief overview of those individuals, organizations and programs that contributed to some extent to the development of scientific ballooning, or were part of it, information on the most important balloon-borne experiments, and an explanation in simple terms of those technical elements or basic concepts used in ballooning that appear repeatedly throughout the various articles and news published on this website.
StratoCat also counts with an exclusive video channel on Youtube on which we offer all kinds of videos related to scientific ballooning, and a tweeter account (@Stratoballoon) on which we inform of the last minute ongoings on the field.
How you can help us
Besides the fact that along these pages we often make reference to "we" or "us" to remark the collective spirit of the initiative, StratoCat is a one-person-run project developed by me: Luis Eduardo Pacheco. It's a labour of love based on the free time I have available as happens to anyone with a hobby of any kind. StratoCat's fuel (balloon data) came from the information which I can obtain from specialized publications, scientific papers related to balloon-borne experiences, the visit to libraries and Internet. However, there is a lot of information to which I have no access because I'm living in Buenos Aires, Argentine Republic, in Southamerica far from the direct data sources which are mainly located in the northern hemisphere (United States, France and so on). Thanks to internet it's easy to get informed about the current ongoing of the activity if one knowks where to look for, but a great part of the historical record of the scientific ballooning is beyond direct reach.
That's is when the visitors of the site became a key part of it's development: most people reaches StratoCat because in one manner or other they have a relation to the field. Maybe someone have good old memories of their balloon adventures when he or she was young or that other person remembers with love and affection that balloon launch efforts which were their first aproach to hands-on science. If you are one of these people and have any kind of balloon material (old technical reports, travel diaries, photographies of balloon launches campaigns, newspapers or magazines clippings, etc.), or perhaps if you had been part of this activity in the past and have some remembers and experiences worth of sharing, please contact me and I will be more than pleased to include it here, with the corresponding credit of the source.
Let me say that I'm not an "expert" on the subject and I'm learning on the fly, so any correction, alteration or extension to the information provided in StratoCat will be very welcome.
The ufo-balloon that gave rise to the project
The long way from the original idea of cataloguing launches of stratospheric balloons to the current form of the project, has had a remarkable development. While StratoCat is an initiative to document an activity intimately linked with science and technology, its origins come from a field far from it: the UFO myth.
On September 17, 1985, over the city of Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina, the unexpected apparittion of what we now know was a french stratospheric balloon (shown below left) launched a month earlier from South Africa, made believe thousands of Argentines (myself included) that we were visited by a vehicle from another world. It was an event of great public impact that still remains in the memory of many people, even in the mind of those for which the UFO are merely a silly note of colour in the newspaper or on TV.
Many years after the event, and being involved as editor of an ephemeral electronic publication which attempted to have a rational approach to the UFO field, I decided to start my own inquiry into this famous sighting. First, all was merely reduced to write an article for the journal, but as far as the research on the subject progressed, the initial objective was expanded.
More data, photos, contradictory evidence, contacts with various agencies, and so on forced me to leave the edition of the journal, to concentrate only in my research, which at the time was truly a personal obsession. Forced necessarily to inquire into all aspects about balloons in the scientific research, its origins, flight characteristics, etc; gradually I discovered the fascinating story behind the conception and development of the first flying device used by man.
This showed me two things: that the UFO field usually underestimates the degree of impact that balloons have on several UFO cases (perhaps because the "balloon explanation" was the favourite and most abused "explanation") and that in the internet both in the field of aerospace technology or scientific research there are no initiatives devoted to collect and document the history of the development of balloons and their use as a research tool, unlike for example about rockets, satellites, aircraft, etc.. of which there are countless web sites aimed at the general public.
After a little thought I decided to start all by myself and try to fill that gap. Thus was born StratoCat.
In the first years on the air the whole project evolved to a more balloon technical-historical oriented website, with practically no traces of the UFO myth connection of it's origins.