Was Auguste Piccard a flat earther? In our series on countering the unscientific anti-intellectual stance of flat earthers, we’ve discussed we’ve discussed how flat earthers have fabricated that Tesla Was a Flat Earther and that Admiral Byrd Talked about Lands Beyond Antarctica that the government is hiding from us, despite the facts that both were vocal globe scientists. In this article, we’ll discuss another scientific figure flat earthers have inexplicably co opted as one of their own, Auguste Piccard.

Auguste and his twin brother Jean Piccard                                                               Image Credit: San Diego Air and Space Museum

Piccard was a very interesting and quirky Swiss physicist, inventor, and superior risk-taker; making both a record-setting stratospheric balloon flight and record setting ocean floor explorations, both in pressurized spheres he invented, designed, and built himself. A contemporary and acquaintance of Einstein, Piccard was also the inspiration for the name of Star Trek’s Jean Luc Picard. Picard’s (Auguste, not Jean-Luc) main claim to fame, and the cause of flat earther’s belief he is one of them, was his record breaking high altitude balloon flights in the 1930’s, particularly his first one.

Why Ask the Question Was Auguste Piccard a Flat Earther?

In 1931, he successfully took a hot air balloon up into the stratosphere, reaching the height of about 51,000 feet (15.5 km). Shorly after this feat, Popular Mechanics wrote an article on the flight and included the phrase “It [the earth] seemed a flat disk with an upturned edge.” A disk with an upturned edge? What an interesting observation.

Auguste Piccard posing with his family before his first stratospheric balloon flight. You’ve got to love the homemade basket helmets.                                   Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Well, unfortunately, this is just another case of flat earther confirmation bias. In fact, we don’t actually know if Piccard said that because it’s not in quotes, and the rest of the paragraph reads from the third person as in the phrase,”The observers saw the earth…”. In other parts of the article, it shows quotes for Picard’s actual statements, such as where it says, “Blue Air”. So, while it sounds odd enough and specific enough to think that it might have been something Piccard actually said, without it being in quotes, it’s unlikely, for the reasons we go into below.

The Rest of Piccard’s Writings

Fortunately, Piccard even wrote a book on his experiences, both of his high altitude balloon flights and homemade submarine dives, entitled Earth, Sky, and Sea, so we don’t have to guess at what he thought about the balloon flight. In the searchable version of the book that I linked to, there are zero usages of either the word ‘disk’, or ‘upturned’. The eleven usages of the word ‘flat’ were not in relation to the shape of the earth, except in one case where he was looking for a flat place to land his balloon. But this could hardly be taken as a statement about the shape of the earth.

It would be odd for a man who said the earth looked like a disk with upturned edges to not mention such an unusual appearance of the earth in his book on the subject. Particularly since he was a physicist, and the shape of the earth being a disk would have been extremely noteworthy for a man ‘brainwashed’ on heliocentrism.

So, Was Auguste Piccard A Flat Earther?

As I discuss in my article Five Insane Things Flat Earthers Believe, flat earthers state that space does not exist. They think there is a giant spinning dome over the planet that the heavenly bodies are stuck to, or hanging from, or… whatever they happen to think up that particular day, including that the stars are floating out in the water that is outside the dome and encompasses it (yes, really. I just couldn’t make this stuff up myself.)

Well, this is at odds to Piccard’s stated beliefs. In the introduction to the book, he says, “… to travel to new areas of celestial space” and on page one, he says, “This led physicists to adduce the existence of another phenomenon, that of cosmic rays coming from outer space.” Measuring the cosmic radiation was one of his goals during his flight, and after he came back he never changed his stance on cosmic rays. It would be hard to believe that if he thought space didn’t exist, he would still mention cosmic rays coming from outer space in multiple places throughout the book.

On page 10, he begins to describe the view from his first balloon flight, and there is no mention of the shape of the earth. In fact, he describes the scenes as being ‘blurred’ and ‘covered in fog’. Hardly conditions to have stated that he saw something as well-defined as a disk, let alone an upturned one.

Earth Sky and Sea Image Credit: Earth, Sky, Sea

On page 120 he both talks about gravitational measurements (flat earthers do not believe in gravity) an uses the word ‘globe’ for earth. He says, “The geophysicists have installed a network of stations all over the globe”. On page 147 he says, “… humanity will find great resources in the seas, which cover three-quarters of the globe.” and on page 187, he uses the word globe as a synonym for earth twice. Clearly, Piccard’s own book doesn’t give any evidence to support the idea that he was the utterer of the quote in question.

It is also important to note that Piccard was not in the basket of a balloon, as we might imagine it, he was in a pressurized sphere of his own invention. This means that all of his observations at elevations above 15,000 feet, where he could open the door of the cabin, were through portholes. Flat earthers are quick to point out that airline windows are curved, so that any curvature we might see out of them at 40,000 feet, is likely due to the slight curvature of the windows. Predictably, flat earthers don’t dismiss and aren’t even skeptical about whether the upturned curvature mentioned in the article could be a result of the windows, but latch onto this spurious quote as if it’s gospel, as they generally do in their desperate quest for bias confirmation.

Additionally, there is an actual interview with Piccard after his flight that we can reference. The interview is at Stratosphere Vaincue . It is in French,  but starting at 7:28, the translation is approximately this:

Interviewer: “at that altitude, can you see the curvature of the earth?”
Piccard: “Probably. We shall see if we look exactly with a ruler we can certainly see the earth is curved, but through the portholes, we did not notice it.”

That hardly sounds like he believes the last 2000 years of science is wrong. Sounds like just about what any typical person would say if they thought they might see the curvature, but was being honest that they may or may not have actually seen it.

A Plane Flight to the Same Altitude

While flat earthers are drooling over this quote and dreaming up all the ways it supports their, what must be close to a billion person, conspiracy, what they seem to miss is that Piccard didn’t go into low earth orbit or to the moon, he merely went to just under 52,000 feet! While this is higher than the average cruising altitude of a plane of around 40,000 feet, it’s not so much higher that we would see something completely different than what Piccard saw.

This is not revolutionary today, and millions of people have gone to this altitude and looked out the window. The Concorde went to 60,000 feet, 10,000 feet higher than Piccard did on that flight (although he would surpass 70,000 feet on another flight), and flew millions of passengers over it’s lifetime. While many Concorde passengers did say they could see the curvature of the earth, none that I am aware of reported seeing a disk with upturned edges, or anything that could have been construed as such.

The Hennessy Commercial

The only other piece of ‘evidence’ that flat earthers have to support their unlikely claim that Auguste Piccard a flat earther is a whisky commercial from 2016! Yes, I’m actually serious. The Hennesy Commercial Commemorating Auguste and his son Jacques shows Auguste ascending in his balloon when his balloon breaks. He then ‘falls’ upwards uncontrollably until his capsule plunges into a large body of water. Flat earthers believe this is a ‘hiding in plain site’ reference that Piccard actually broke through the top of the dome that covers the flat earth and into the waters beyond it, and that this fact is just being hidden from us!! Again, I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

That the world record manned high altitude balloon record is only 113,775 ft (34678 meters) and that breaking the dome would have caused massive flooding , makes this seem a bit unlikely. Occam’s razor would suggest that,rather than Picard having gone up 300 times higher than the current world record, breaking through a glass dome, somehow living to tell about it since his balloon would have broken, yet never breathing a word about it to anyone in his entire life; it’s probably an artistic presentation of the fact that Auguste went both to the stratosphere in his balloon and the ocean depths in his bathysphere. Watch the commercial and you decide (it’s short, entertaining, and a nice tribute to the Piccards).

While we can’t know for sure that Piccard did not say what the Popular Mechanics article reported, there is no supporting evidence that corraborates him saying it, and certainly there is evidence he believed in a round earth and space. I hope you found this article educational, learning a bit about Auguste Piccard, as well as getting an entertaining (or saddening) glimpse into the mind of flat earthers. So, the answer to the question, “Was Auguste Piccard a Flat Earther” is a definitive “no”.