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de Rozier, Jean-François Pilâtre
Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier was born in Metz, Lorraine on March 30th, 1754,the third son of Magdeleine Wilmard and Mathurin Pilastre.
His interests in the chemistry of drugs had been awakened in the military hospital of Metz, an important garrison town on the border of France. He made his way to Paris at the age of 18, then taught physics and chemistry at the Academy in Reims, which brought him to the attention of the Comte de Provence, brother of King Louis XVI.
He returned to Paris, where he was put in charge of Monsieur's cabinet of natural history and made a valet de chambre to Monsieur's wife, Madame, which brought him his ennobled name, Pilâtre de Rozier. He opened his own museum in the Marais quarter of Paris on 11 December 1781, where he undertook experiments in physics, and provided demonstrations to nobles. He researched the new field of gases, and invented a respirator.
In June 1783, he witnessed the first public demonstration of a balloon by the Montgolfier brothers. On 19 September, he assisted with the untethered flight of a sheep, a cockerel and a duck from the front courtyard of the Palace of Versailles.
He is the first man who had the courage to fly in the airs on board an astonishing machine, manufactured only a couple of months prior by Etienne and Joseph Montgolfier (two brothers from Annonay – Ardeche). After the first test without basket and passengers and then the complementary flight with animals, the King Louis XVI didn’t want to kill one of his subjects and wished to send convicts instead.
Along with Joseph Montgolfier, he was one of six passengers on a second flight on 19 January 1784, with a huge Montgolfier balloon Le Flesselles launched from Lyon. Four French nobles paid for the trip, including a prince.
Pilâtre de Rozier, a freemason, friend of Benjamin Franklin, Lafayette and other decision makers, had just created a Sciences Museum in Paris. Surprised and interested, the King’s court accepted Jean-François’ project and gave him the possibility to be the first to fly. During several weeks, he modified and tested the balloon, then flew with the “Marquis d’ Arlandes” on November 21st, 1783. He carried out the first world record of distance, altitude and duration. His fame soon exceeded France and extended to the whole world. The Man achieved his dream: to fly in the air. Pilâtre de Rozier invented the first gas mask, the matches and many other inventions, but he continued his experiments in ballooning. He manufactured “La Rozière”, combination between a hot air balloon and a gas balloon (hydrogen) which had just been set up by the physicist Charles.He also risked himself while researching the flammability of hydrogen: in "A Short History of Nearly Everything", Bill Bryson writes "In France, a chemist named Pilatre de Rozier tested the flammability of hydrogen by gulping a mouthful and blowing across an open flame, proving at a stroke that hydrogen is indeed explosively combustible and that eyebrows are not necessarily a permanent feature of one’s face."
His 3rd flight would kill him. He intended to fly from France to England on June 15th, 1785, but the machine wasn’t ready. He died at Wimille, on the French coast, aged 31, with his unfortunate flight companion Pierre Ange Romain, crushed on the ground after a vertiginous fall. Physicist chemist, he was also the creator of a new museum (a kind of “Conservatory of Arts and Crafts). He was also the first air victim and the spiritual father of generations which have succeeded him on board hot air balloons, gas balloons and “Rozières”. It’s with a “rozière” that Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones accomplished a round the world tour in March 1999, so did Steve Fossett a few years later.
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