Ballooning: History, Theory and Practice. Thursdays, 6 to 8 p.m., Sept. 27 through Nov. 29, 600 Independence Ave. SW.Cost is $50. 447-4419.
Fact: balloons carried man to the highest altitudes ever reached, until rockets came along. Fact: balloons were used for reconnaissance during the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. Fact: ballooning has acquired such a following that the Department of Agriculture's Graduate School is including a ballooning course in its roster of fall courses. Listed under the heading "Liberal Studies," the course is taught by veteran balloonist Russ Parkinson, who has a Ph.D in aviation history and, so, emphasizes the history of ballooning. During the 10-week course students survey the evolution of the balloon, learn about the logistics of balloon propulsion, tour the Air and Space Museum's balloon display, and finally, get to put theory into practice on a tethered ascent in a balloon. Beyond the course's appeal to history buffs, Parkinson says it's a way for balloon enthusiasts to meet each other. This often leads to getting a chance to "crew" on balloon flights or to "run the chase," following the balloon in a car and retrieving the balloonists after the flight.