I would like to dedicate this series, not to the greats of history whom we all already know but to those who did something that makes us question if we’re as tough today as they were back then 🙂 .
“In 1958, Kittinger moved to the Escape Section of the Aeromedical Laboratory at Wright Air Development Center’s Aero Medical Laboratory. There, he joined Project Excelsior, which investigated the use of a parachute for escape from a space capsule or high-altitude aircraft. At the time no one knew whether humans could survive a jump from the edge of space.
On Nov. 16, 1959, Kittinger piloted Excelsior I to 76,000 ft. (23,165 m) and returned to Earth by jumping, free falling, and parachuting to the desert floor in New Mexico. The jump almost cost him his life. His small parachute, which served to stabilize him and prevent him from going into a fatal “flat spin,” opened after only two seconds of free fall instead of 16, catching Kittinger around the neck and causing him to spiral uncontrollably. Soon he lost consciousness, as he tumbled toward Earth at 120 revolutions per minute. Only his emergency parachute, which opened automatically at 10,000 ft. (3,048 m), slowed his descent and saved his life.
In spite of his close call, he continued with the project and the flight of Excelsior II, which took place on Dec. 11, 1959. This balloon climbed to 74,700 ft. (22,769 m) before Kittinger jumped from his gondola, setting a free-fall record of 55,000 ft. (16,764 m) before pulling his parachute ripcord.
The next year, Kittinger set two more records, which he still holds. On Aug. 16, 1960, Kittinger surpassed the altitude record set by David Simons, who had climbed to 101,516 ft. (30,942 m) in 1957 in his Manhigh II balloon. Kittinger floated to 102,800 ft. (31,333 m) in Excelsior III, an open gondola adorned with a paper license plate that his five-year-old son had cut out of a cereal box. Protected against the subzero temperatures by layers of clothes and a pressure suit – he experienced air temperatures as low as minus 94°F (minus 70°C) – and loaded down with gear that almost doubled his weight, he climbed to his maximum altitude in 1 hr and 31 min. even though at 43,000 ft. (13,106 m) he began experiencing severe pain in his right hand caused by a failure in his pressure glove and could have scrubbed the mission. He remained at peak altitude for about 12 min.; then he stepped out of his gondola into the darkness of space. After falling for 13 sec., his six-foot (1.8 m) canopy parachute opened and stabilized his fall, preventing the flat spin that could have killed him. Only 4 min. and 36 sec. more were needed to bring him down to about 17,500 ft. (5,334 m) where his regular 28 ft. (8.5 m) parachute opened, allowing him to float the rest of the way to Earth. His descent set another record for the longest parachute freefall.
During his descent, he reached speeds up to 614 mph, approaching the speed of sound without the protection of an aircraft or space vehicle. But, he said, he “had absolutely no sense of the speed.” His flight and parachute jump demonstrated that, properly protected, it was possible to put a person into near-space and that airmen could exit their aircraft at extremely high altitudes and free fall back into Earth’s atmosphere without dangerous consequences.”
“Kittinger is currently advising Felix Baumgartner on a planned free-fall from 120,000 feet (about 36,000m). The project is called the Red Bull Stratos project and has collected leading experts in the fields of aeronautics, medicine and engineering to ensure its success. Felix Baumgartner will also become the first person ever to break the sound barrier while in free fall, if his jump is successful. Baumgartner’s jump will be used to test the next generation of full pressure suits, used in space and to collect useful medical and scientific information. Although the jump was planned for 2010, it has been delayed by a legal case between Red Bull and promoter Daniel Hogan, who claims that he was first to propose the jump to Red Bull in 2004, and alleges that Red Bull backed out before resurrecting the project some years later. The lawsuit was resolved out of court in June 2011”