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Albuquerque’s Balloon Museum explores culture of ballooning

The Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum is ready to inform and entertain visitors to the Balloon Fiesta. (Journal)
The Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum is ready to inform and entertain visitors to the Balloon Fiesta. (Journal)
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There is so much more to ballooning than nine days of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in October.

All year long, the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum features an in-depth look at the role of hot-air and gas ballooning in adventure, scientific experiments, arts, warfare and the exploration of space.

“It’s a unique museum,” says Sandor “Sandy” Cohen, museum director. “We deal with it all — the history, art, science and culture of ballooning.”

Cohen, who began his post earlier in 2013, is working with his staff to create new exhibits and bolster older ones to envelop visitors as they imagine the experience of being lighter-than-air while they tour the museum, he says.

“Can you imagine the courage it took for these first balloonists? It was really a death-defying act,” he explains, as he stops by the historical permanent display near the front of the museum that features a replica of the first balloon flight in France in 1783.

“We’re really looking to explore topics that appeal to mass audiences, with immersive displays,” he adds.

The 59,000-square-foot museum opened its doors in 2005. It is owned and operated by the City of Albuquerque and supported by the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum Foundation.

It’s named to honor Ben Abruzzo and Maxie Anderson, who with their crews, completed the first nonstop crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by gas balloon in 1978 and the Pacific Ocean in 1981, according to the Balloon Museum website. Anderson died in a ballooning accident in Germany in 1983 and Abruzzo was killed in a 1985 airplane accident, according to newspaper reports.

What’s inside

The arch-shaped entrance represents the throat of a balloon that leads to a towering main hall. A bridge, suspended with huge cables, allows visitors to look out toward the park launch field.

The museum’s towering roof allows for displays of actual balloons.

Along with history, other exhibits explain the mechanics of balloon flight, the construction of envelopes and gondolas as well as the equipment necessary for flight, such as burners, valves and altimeters. The exhibit also explores triumphs and tragedies of ballooning as well as what makes favorable weather and altitudes for flight.

Other exhibits look at balloons in outer space, the world record for a parachute jump from a balloon, the uses of hot-air balloons in war, and the wizardry of special shape constructions. The museum also has a hands-on exhibit area for children.

Cohen says attendance has been up to 98,600 visitors this past year, compared to 60,000 average attendance in previous years.

New features

The museum is busier during Balloon Fiesta, opening at 5 a.m. for prime viewing of Balloon Fiesta Park, he says. After mass ascensions, many visitors find the museum a great place to explore and further their understanding of the amazing sport, he adds.

“During the day from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. access to the area is easy and parking in our large lot is free and the crowds are smaller, so we encourage our residents to come and enjoy the fun of Balloon Fiesta Week at the Balloon Museum,” he says.

A welcome change of scenery this year is landscaping from the museum to Fiesta Park. Cohen says the project is scheduled to be completed by the fiesta and should include outdoor art.

For information or schedule changes, visit www.cabq.gov/balloon.

If you go

WHAT: Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum

WHERE: 9201 Balloon Museum Drive NE, south of Balloon Fiesta Park. Free shuttles run between the park and the museum during Balloon Fiesta.

WHEN: Museum hours during Balloon Fiesta are 5 a.m.-6 p.m. and later for scheduled special events.

COST, INFORMATION: Call 505-768-6020 or go to www.cabq.gov/ balloon.

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