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Earth Balloon

Author John Cech
Air Date 11/12/2004

Earth Balloon Transcript

Several months ago, at the annual Public Radio Conference, I had a remarkable experience. I walked inside the Earth.

Well, it was actually inside an inflated version of our world called the Earth Balloon, which was filled with air and tethered inside the Seattle Convention Center. The Earth Balloon is a globe twenty-two feet high, made of 24 gores, or panels of sail cloth. It weighs just 70 pounds and rolls up like a sleeping bag; a small fan fills it with air in about 15 minutes. You enter the balloon through a zipper that opens in the Pacific Ocean, at the International Date Line. The Earth Balloon tours to elementary, middle, and high schools around the country, and is used to teach young people about geography — in a very dramatic way.

Outside, it looks like a huge globe, but step through that seam and you’re in another world — a humming, super-oxygenated environment that people say lifts them off the ground a little. Imagine seeing everything from the inside, which is, of course, a different perspective, a strange and initially disorienting reversal. It’s not the only change of perspective that the Earth Balloon provides. On its beautifully hand-painted surface, you see things — continents, countries, bodies of water — in their true size and relation to one another, rather than in the flattened, Eurocentric projections that we all grew up with that represent, say, North America as essentially the same size as Africa — which is hardly the case in fact.

The Earth Balloon sighs, like it’s breathing — and it’s gently illuminated from the outside like a glowing, diaphanous cloud. All the sounds of a bustling convention recede, and you’re dizzy with speechless curiosity, with questions, with a surprising awe. Many of the school children who go inside don’t want to leave, my guide told me. In fact, she said, they ask if they can spend the night inside the balloon. I would want to do that, too. You can find out more about the balloon and its journeys, along with contact information, curriculum materials for teachers, and testimonials from happy travelers at — . It’s even possible for your school district to purchase its own balloon. Believe me, that would be worth all the fund-raisers it would take. But see for yourself, if the earth balloon comes to a school near you. You and your children will never think about our planet in quite the same way again.

Posted in Education