In 1930, an interest in ballooning, and a curiosity about the upper atmosphere led him to design a spherical, pressurized aluminum gondola that 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.
An important motivation for his research in the upper atmosphere were measurements of cosmic radiation, which were supposed to give experimental evidence for the theories of Albert Einstein, whom Piccard knew from the Solvay conferences and who was a fellow alumnus of ETH.
On 27 May 1931, Auguste Piccard and Paul Kipfer took off from Augsburg, Germany, and reached a record altitude of 15,781 m (51,775 ft). (FAI Record File Number 10634) During this flight, Piccard was able to gather substantial data on the upper atmosphere, as well as measure cosmic rays. On 18 August 1932, launched from Dübendorf, Switzerland, Piccard and Max Cosyns made a second record-breaking ascent to 16,201 m (53,153 ft). (FAI Record File Number 6590) He ultimately made a total of twenty-seven balloon flights, setting a final record of 23,000 m (75,459 ft)