The hot-air balloon or Montgolfiere balloon invented in the 18th century by the Montgolfier brothers is the ancestor of today’s lighter-than-air craft. The only difference is that modern balloons no longer need a pilot aboard to steer them and stabilize their altitude.
Today, balloons are a unique tool for scientific research. Only balloons can stay aloft long enough in the stratosphere, a region of the atmosphere too low for orbiting satellites, and traversed too quickly by sounding rockets to obtain meaningful data.
Last updated: June 2005