In 1930, an interest in ballooning, and a curiosity about the upper atmosphere led him to design a spherical, pressurized aluminum gondola which would allow ascent to great altitude without requiring a pressure suit. Supported by the Belgian Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS) Piccard constructed his gondola.
On May 27, 1931, Auguste and Paul Kipfer took off from Augsburg, Germany, and reached a record altitude of 15,785 m (51,775 ft). During this flight, Piccard was able to gather substantial data on the upper atmosphere, as well as measure cosmic rays. On August 18, 1932, lauched from Zurich, Switzerland, Piccard and Max Cosyns made a second record-breaking ascent to 16,200 m (53,152 ft). He ultimately made a total of twenty-seven balloon flights setting a final record of 23,000 m (72,177 ft).
In the mid '30s, Piccard's interests shifted when he realized that a modification of some of his atmospheric balloon concepts whould allow descent into the deep ocean. By 1937, he'd designed a small steel gondola to withstand great external pressure, construction began but was interrupted by the outbreak of war. Resuming work in 1945 the steel gondola for personnel was completed and a large float was attached for buoyancy using gasoline as the medium. To make the now floating craft sink, tons of iron were attached to the float with a release mechanism. This craft was named FNRS-2 and made a number of unmanned dives in 1948 before being gifted to the French navy[?] in 1950. There it was redesigned, and in 1954 it took a man safely down 4,176 m (13,700 ft).
With the experience of FNRS-2 Piccard and his son Jacques built the improved Bathyscaphe Trieste. Piccard made over 100 dives, mainly off Italy, from 1954 before before selling her to the US Navy in 1957 for $250,000.