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Recently, I went with my family to visit Letchworth State Park, where they offer hot air balloon rides. We got there at just the right time to see them fill the balloons with air and take off. It's kind of hard to describe; it seems like such a simple thing, but at the same time it's a breathtaking sight.

When I returned home, it prompted me to do some research. Here's what I found:

The hot air balloon was created Dec. 14, 1780, by the Montgolfier brothers.

Technically, the first actual air balloon launch was on Sept. 19, 1783, by scientist Pilatre De Rozier. The passengers were a sheep, a duck and a rooster. It stayed in the air for 15 minutes before it crashed.

The first manned balloon flight was Nov. 21, 1783, in Annonay, France. It was piloted by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurentis.

Air heated by a propane burner that is carried in the basket fills the balloon. The heat is what makes the balloon float. It follows the basic principle of how hot air rises. This is because hot air is lighter than cool air as it has less mass per unit of volume. (Now you can go impress your science teacher with this new information.)

The speed of the balloon rising depends on how much hot air is put into the balloon. It's like a grill. The bigger you make the flame, the faster your food cooks. Same as a hot air balloon. The bigger the flame, the faster you rise.

For the landing, there is a section at the top of the balloon called the parachute valve. It's a circle of fabric cut out of the top of the balloon that is controlled by a long cord running down the middle of the balloon to the basket. If the pilot wants to go down, he or she pulls the cord, which lets the hot air escape. This provides a slow, crash-free landing.

Now the big question. How do they steer? All the pilot has to do is change the vertical position of the balloon because the wind blows in different directions at different altitudes. Basically, it depends on the wind. If the pilot wants to move in a certain direction, he or she simply ascends and descends to the appropriate level and rides with the wind.

The fabric closest to the flame is made with fire-resistant material. The rest of the balloon is made with a nylon fabric. The sections of the fabric are called gores. The gores extend to the top of the balloon and are made up of many smaller panels.

It is quite amazing all the different shapes that balloons can be.

The balloon itself is actually called the envelope. The basket is either called the gondola or simply a wicker basket.

The wicker basket is usually woven from cane as these materials are extremely sturdy, flexible and relatively lightweight. The basket has to be strong, since it is constantly on the move. Also when you land, it has to take the force of the landing.

People in cars follow the balloons so passengers can get a ride back to where they started. For safety reasons, balloons don't fly in harsh weather conditions.

If you think you might be interested in going for an air balloon ride, here are some places you can go to for rides, along with average prices:

*Aurora Balloon Co. (www.auroraballooncompany.com), $210 per person.

*Balloons Over Letchworth (www.balloonsoverletchworth.com), $235 per person.

*Flying Colors Ballooning (www.flyingcolorsballooning.com), $190 per person.

The rides average about half an hour to an hour. You also have to book ahead of time.

Audean Jimerson is a home-schooled sophomore from Hamburg.