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Ben Franklin's Balloons

Experts recreate the French's daring first manned flights, which Franklin had chronicled.

Premiered: Runtime: 52:52Topic: Space + FlightSpace & FlightNova

The first stage in human flight didn’t begin with the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, but with daring inventors and aeronauts in 18th century Paris. In a period of just 19 months, humanity not only left the ground for the first time—a moment as significant as the Apollo moon landing—but thanks to a handful of brilliant and colorful pioneers, developed all the essential features of today's hot air and gas balloons. Their exploits fascinated Benjamin Franklin, who was serving in Paris as the American ambassador. He reported that these early flights brought tens of thousands of citizens into the streets to watch the spectacle. To explore this burst of innovation, NOVA recreates key flights, including the world’s first manned voyage that took place on November 21, 1783. Joining the team will be a descendant of the Montgolfier brothers, inventors of the hot-air balloon, who will build an accurate replica of the fragile paper and canvas craft using 18th century tools and materials. NOVA reveals the secrets of how the Montgolfiers invented flight and relives the experiences of the balloon pioneers who left Earth for the first time. (Premiered October 22, 2014)

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