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Hot Air, Champagne and a Sword - Tom Tschida's First Balloon Ride
November 4, 2009

NASA Dryden photographer Tom Tschida during his first-ever hot-air balloon ride.More accustomed to taking photos of others, NASA Dryden photographer Tom Tschida snapped this image of himself in the gondola of Randy Wright's balloon during Tschida's first-ever hot-air balloon ride at the 2009 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. (NASA photo / Tom Tschida) The view from the gondola of a hot-air balloon gives one a glimpse into the reasons why ballooning is a popular hobby, according to Tom Tschida, a photographer at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif.

Tschida experienced his first view from aloft in a hot air balloon named Peacock on a brisk morning during the 2009 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Tschida had only briefly seen a hot air balloon up close prior to the event.

"I hung out with the crew as the balloon was readied," Tschida recalled. "The pilot, Randy Wright, briefed the Peacock's crew about what would happen. A set of stairs was brought over for us to climb into the balloon. The crew did everything else," he added.

Tschida had previously done some skydiving, so he imagined that the experience would be similar. Once aloft, the flight was peaceful and calm as the balloon drifted, but he noted that the burst of flame from the burner used to heat the air that kept the balloon aloft was loud.

NASA Dryden photog Tom Tschida gazes at balloon pilot Randy Wright during the post-flight initiation ceremony.NASA Dryden photog Tom Tschida gazes apprehensively at colorfully costumed balloon pilot Randy Wright as Wright uses a sword to open a bottle of champagne during the post-flight initiation ceremony. Tschida had just landed after his first hot-air balloon flight at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. (Photo courtesy Debra Cooper) Tschida's photographic creative juices also flowed in different ways in the air.

"Up in the balloon, I naturally shot more wide than I did on the ground to take advantage of the different perspectives," he said. "From the air you experience and see the whole thing and the view - which must be the biggest draw for balloonists."

As the balloon drifted over the Rio Grande, Wright dipped the balloon's gondola and its occupants in twice as part of a tradition, soaking them in cold water, before ascending again. Tschida admitted the landing was exhilarating and a bit rough as the gondola hit the ground and slid to a stop about 20 feet from its touchdown spot.

The ride is only part of the experience for a first-time flier. In a traditional initiation ceremony to commemorate the flight, Tschida and another fellow passenger lay on the deflated envelope while the rest of the crew piled on top to assist in deflating the balloon. Tschida was then asked to kneel in front of Wright, who retold a brief history of ballooning and recited a ballooning prayer. After opening a bottle of champagne with a sword, the pilot offered a toast, Tschida was directed to pick up a cup of champagne with his mouth and drink it, and was then ceremoniously doused with the bubbly beverage.

NASA Dryden photographer Tom Tschida gets doused with champagne after his first-ever hot-air balloon flight.NASA Dryden photographer Tom Tschida gets doused with champagne during a post-flight initiation ceremony after his first-ever hot-air balloon flight at the 2009 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. (Photo courtesy Debra Cooper) The sense of community from Albuquerque residents also impressed the NASA photographer.

"As you go over neighborhoods little old ladies in robes and kids on bikes come out to see the balloons. When the balloon lands, kids, adults and other crews all come to help hold the basket down," he said.

"The flight gave me broader depth of understanding into what ballooning is and how it works," Tschida reflected. "I also learned how complex it is and how critical the direction of the wind is at different altitudes (since) the balloon is only controlled by changing its altitude. There is inherent risk, but it is fun. It was like being under the parachute in skydiving; it is calm and quiet with a great view of everything."

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