2002 Burning Man Balloon Project

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Shade was very important.
Only 98 To Go!
Only 98 more luftballoons to go!
Make that 96
Make that 96...
At this point, the wind started to really pick up. We had gotten a late start (Monday) because we'd been setting up camp all morning and were unfamiliar with the balloon filling procedure. Winds were usually pretty bad at sunset, and we felt it would only get worse. We were worried that the rig wouldn't last the night, and we wanted to get at least one full afternoon of flying it. After some discussion, we decided to quit and come back at 5am the next morning. It proved a wise decision.
Two Levels
We managed to get back to the site at 5:30 or 6am and got to work. Dawn on the mountains was lovely, but Dawn on the bicycle a couple hours later was even better, as she brought us breakfast (including chocolate-covered espresso beans).
Here we see the first two levels of the tower.
Three Levels
Three Levels
Four Levels
Four Levels
Five Levels
Five Levels
Almost Seven Levels

Almost Seven Levels
An Ill Wind
'Tis an Ill Wind.
The wind picked up every now and then during the afternoon, sometimes causing the loss of balloons. I felt like part of a primitive society, at the mercy of the forces of nature. Prayer and magic, normally anathema to me, became more understandable as ways to feel like you are doing something about events which are beyond your control.
Looking Up
A pleasant and unexpected part of our project was the sheer beauty and elegance of the balloons. The bright primary colors in the rounded teardrop shape looked awesome against the clear desert sky, especially up close when you realized how big the things were. From a distance, you just couldn't tell.
Load Bearing
Patri points at the mess of ropes at the base of the cluster, and at a single carabiner which bore the entire load (and was rated for far more).
Patri Rising
When we had 7 levels, which was 21 balloons generating about 140 lbs of lift (not counting the rope and carabiners), it was finally time for the first test flight. Although we didn't know it at the time, we were never to get more than a couple balloons more than this.
(Patri, Troy, Dawn, many spectators)
Patri Rising 2
Patri Rising...
Patri Rising 3
Patri Rising 4
As I started getting a significant height above the ground, I thought about the fact that I was trusting my life to my own engineering designs. I'd trusted my life to my driving skills, of course, and to my rock-climbing competence, but those were with equipment rigorously tested by others. Visions of everything I'd ever tried to make and screwed up flashed through my head as I repeated our mantra "No single point of failure, no single point of failure..."