Balloon panic: A brief but fascinating history

The History Guy gets all topical on us with a short-but-great overview of the many ways balloons have unleashed panic on the ground, ever since they were first launched in the 1700s. Balloons have been an often-overlooked weapon of war, as well as a secret tool of espionage, but some of the weirdest panics have revolved around, of all things, weather balloons. Which are launched by the thousands around the world every day, and most of which come down as uneventfully as they went up, dropping valuable information to scientists as they go. But every so often, there’s that one oddball that gets too high up, runs off with the jet stream, interferes with regular commercial flights, and needs to be brought down…or SHOT down, as the case may be. That last should happen where there’s no one around to be hit by falling debris, as was the case with the alleged Chinese spy balloon recently downed off the east coast of the United States.

Balloons have much to teach us about everything from the upper reaches of the atmosphere to the dirt under our feet, but some of the most valuable lessons keep getting missed…including those about the futility of war, the folly of secrecy, and the value of transparency. Not to mention the stupidity of getting oneself all worked up over a flying object that’s really nothing new under the sun.

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