Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., USAF

Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., USAFfor National Geographic magazine
On Tuesday sky diver Felix Baumgartner is set to step out a push, Apollo-like capsule and freefall 23 miles (37 kilometers) from the edge of space the height of the Red Bull Stratos project. Fifty-two years ago, but U.S.

Air Force pilot Joseph Kittinger reached almost the same thing. Duct-taped pack. An open-air gondola.Here, Kittinger offer a personal account of his record-setting skydive, originally published in the November 1960 issue of National Geographic magazine.

 (Note: National Geographic News live video of Felix Baumgartner's jump, followed in November by Space Dive, a National Geographic Channel documentary broadcast)

 *****

Overall spread my onion-shaped balloon 200 feet [61 meters] diameter against a black day air. More than 18 1/2 miles [30 kilometers] lies below the clouds hid New Mexico desert that I was about to parachute.Sitting in my gondola, which turned slightly with the balloon's slow turn, I started sweating lightly, but the temperature is 36 ° [-38 ° C] below zero Fahrenheit reading. Sunlight on my burned the edge of an aluminized anti-glare curtain and the gondola's open door.In my earphones crackled the voice of Captain.

 Marvin Feldstein, one of the project's two doctors from the ground control at Holloman Air Force Base: "Three minutes to jump, Joe"I was ready to go for more than one reason. For about an hour the balloon of 50,000 to 102,800 feet [15,200 to 31,000 meters] above sea level rose level I was exposed to an environment that requires the protection of a pressure suit and helmet, and the fear of their failure has Always offer. If either would break, unconsciousness in 10 or 12 seconds, and death within two minutes.

In our altitude chamber flight at the lab, I always knew that if something went wrong, the chamber pressure can return immediately increased my safety. Doctors standing just a few feet away, and look by a patryspoort for any sign of malfunction. 

But here in the eerie silence of the room, I knew that my life depends entirely on my equipment, my own actions, and the presence of God. [See classic photos of Kittinger's skydive.]Aerodynamic, space begins about 120 miles [190 kilometers] of the earth. Physiologically and psychologically, but it started only 12 miles [19 kilometers] up, where survival requires extensive protection against a real space environment. Thanks to my dedicated Project Excelsior team, I have twice before entered this world in an open gondola test jumps to make the 14-mile [23-kilometer] heights. Now I got to 19 1/2 miles [31 kilometers] above sea level, where the physical and spiritual dangers much greater room for a more conclusive test of our survival and parachute escape.

The idea of ​​men reaching toward the room with balloons and parachutes in the age of jet planes and rockets may seem strange. Actually, it's the best kind of makes sense. No powered aircraft can put a man in a space environment and keep him there for a sustained period of time. But the lighter-than-air balloon, human's oldest flight vehicle.Twenty-five years ago last month, two Army Air Corps captains, Albert W. Stevens and Orvil A. Anderson, the balloon Explorer II to the then unprecedented height of 72,395 feet 13.71 miles [22 kilometers]. They pressure gondola and instruments compiled a two-and-a-quarter-ton payload. 

Results of this famous National Geographic Society-US Army Air Corps stratosphere flight is studied by pilots on this day.The need for a high-altitude escape system to understand, look at the fate of a pilot to bail out above 20,000 feet [6,000 meters. He faces two choices, one of which can be fatal. He must open his parachute immediately after bail-out of a speeding craft, he risks death of his hood opening shock, a lack of oxygen, or a bad cold. [See "Supersonic Skydive's five biggest risks: Boiling Blood Deadly Spins and worse"]Flat spin hazard him as he tried to fall free to reduce habitable heights before opening his parachute. 

His body may whirl like a runaway propeller. Flat Spin is a characteristic of a falling object that is aerodynamically unstable. Dummies fall from balloons to 100,000 feet [30,500 meters reached 200 revolutions per minute, while tests show that 140 rpm would be harmful, possibly fatal.The problem was a man quickly down to lower levels to get before opening his parachute, but at the same time to protect him against a flat spin. The answer comes from Francis Beaupre of the Air Force Aviation and Aerospace Medical Division. His organization is part of the Air Research and Development Command's Wright Air Development Division, we project oriented.

 Beau asked him: Why not use a small parachute to stabilize a man during free fall, as a sea anchor steadies a ship? He began to work on the Beaupre stabilization parachute, one of the few major innovations in parachutes since the seat back pack type approval of the army in 1919.Beau's slide consists of 3 units: a conventional spring-type parachute to catch the wind and provide the pull to open the next unit; a 6-foot-wide stabilization chop flat spin occurs during free fall ; and finally a conventional 28 feet [8.5 meters] parachute opened at about 18,000 feet [5500 meters.[See also "Supersonic Skydive's 5 biggest risks: Boiling Blood Deadly Spins and worse"]Parachute opens Too SoonIn October 1959, we had the first with Beaupre parachute jump, jumping from a Lockheed C-130 Hercules at 28,000 feet [8500 meters.

 I did the first jump, M / Sgt. George A. Post, second, and Captain. Harry Collins, the third. The chute worked beautifully, and we feel ready for higher altitudes.But something went wrong on my first bail-out of a balloon, on November 16, 1959. Before I jumped from the gondola at 76,400 feet, the timer lanyard the stabilization unit went early and 6-foot [180 cm] cut and shrouds popped after only two seconds of free fall, instead of 16, quickly grow to me .At first I thought I would start the free spin slow to enfold me, but despite my efforts I whirled faster and faster. Soon I knew there was nothing I could do. I thought it was the end. I began to pray, and then I lost consciousness.I owe my life to my emergency parachute, which automatically open at 10,000 feet [3000 meters]. When I, I swing states under the beautiful canopy of the emergency chute.

 I want to tell you thank a long session with the good Lord right then and there.I knew that Beaupre's ideas sound, despite the results of the first jump, and on December 11 we were ready to prove it. This time I jumped from the gondola at 74,700 feet [23,000 meters], and everything works perfectly.Next comes the big test, Excelsior III, above 100,000 feet [30,500 meters. The date was 16 August 1960. Clear in my mind as I was floating the events of the past few hours.Spring project into high gearWe project started really speed on the eve of the jump. Alerts go out to the launch crew, ground control station, Holloman base weathermen, and all the support units. Approval for the use of the White Sands Missile Range, the 100-by-40-mile [160-by-64-mile test basin, derived from the Army. We need our own crew and pilots of the support aircraft.

Technicians swarm around 4 1/2-foot-wide [140-centimeter-wide gondola. First Lt. Don Fordham and civilian Don Griggs check the electronic control systems. Airman 1 / c Frank Hale, a skydiver, joins Beau test canopies, enclosure, cables, and lanyards. Another veteran jumper, Captain. Billy Mills, cigar chewing assistant project officer, oversees prelaunch check lists of more than 1,000 entries.The gondola's 12 camera-eyes-including one mounted by the National Geographic Society by Ken Arnold and Gene Gallatin. Plastic water bottles and aluminum foil cameras and other equipment to protect against the cold.Progress as a launch-day minus one, I came under the scrutiny of our two project physicians. I did for a week on a high-protein, low-residue diet, and I avoid gas-producing foods. 

Gas expanded with increasing altitude, so the air trapped in my stomach or intestines can cause pain can be so bad that I was forced to jump too early. The diet is mainly meat and potatoes.The doctors also take one last look at ears, nose and throat. Any air pocketed in the body can force me to soon.Work through the afternoon break for most of our team, but our weathermen, Duke Gildenberg and Ralph Reynolds, their most difficult task in the face. They should bring me to the ground in a 11-mile-square [18-kilometer-square target area about 25 miles [40 kilometers] northwest of Holloman.

They should weather conditions predicted for the morning high up as well as on the ground, and decide if surface winds will allow a safe take-off. Check with Holloman base weathermen, they reach a favorable decision and choose an abandoned gravel airstrip 18 miles [29 kilometers from the base as the slip.Forty-five minutes before midnight, a convoy of about 20 vehicles heads northeast through Alamogordo. 

Scary jack rabbits when they turn on the old airfield, vehicles wheel into position amid mesquite and greasewood. Mobile generators started, communication antennas mounted, and the first the hourly pilot balloons, called pibals for short, moved up a wind reading.The gondola, on a flat-bed truck, the hub of activity as it is given a final grooming. About 300 feet [90 meters away, T / Sgt. Melvin D. Johnson ordered the balloon starts crew.Ground Crew Flight monitorHolloman men who ground control station industry began reporting for duty at midnight. 

They will monitor my progress over the radio and radar networks, pulling my position, tell me when to valve and when to ballast, and, finally, the word on when to jump.Ten minutes after I bail out, ground control beam the signal cut the gondola of the balloon, return and its valuable instruments to earth by parachute.At first this method was risky because chances radio signals can also act as a trigger. In 1955, a balloon gondola happy with no human passengers were cut off when a commercial station blared "Tiger Rag."Dave Willard, chief electronics Holloman Balloon Branch, solved the problem. He has developed a a transistorized device that serves, in effect, as a skyborne conclusion that only a special electronic key that is transferred from the ground station will open. 

Can I go now with full assurance that no burst of jazz or rock 'n' roll the flight will be terminated prematurely.I'm the only guy who gets a chance to sleep before a launch. About 01:30 on the afternoon before the flight, Mary Feldstein handed me two sleeping pills and a medical journal, she sure prescription for sleeping.About 07:00 I woke up to a steak dinner. Still sleepy, I rest four hours longer. Beau Beaupre announce: "Captain Joe, time to wake up."It is a tradition that Beau and Ken Arnold drove me to the launch site. 

It is also traditional that we stop for breakfast, this time consisting of orange juice and Strawberry Shortcake. As I finished my meal, I told Beau:"This is certainly a good breakfast and it was nice of you to pay for it."Of course, Beau has not offered to pay, but what he does because it is traditional. I always want to be in debt when I jump.We reached the launch site at 02:00 and find Duke Gildenberg uncomfortable. Clouds moving from Texas complicates weather forecasts.George Post tell my the flight clothes are ready. The Air Force's most experienced test skydiver, he jump since 1943 and carries the Distinguished Flying Cross.

 It is good to know that he will look at every piece of my gear. He, better than anyone else, and I know the stress my equipment will be exposed.Remains an item of business. The previous week, my five-year-old son Mark eat breakfast at our Dayton, Ohio, home when a car license plate printed on his box of cereal. He decided that his father's cable must be properly licensed, so he cut the marker of the box and his mother mail it to me. 

As I see it, is carefully taped to the gondola.The license label is that of the state of Oregon. Project Excelsior group is stationed in Ohio, we started in New Mexico, our team members come from various countries. Indeed, we have a national effort.Oxygen guards against Bend03:00 I am in the trailer that we use as a dressing room. 

Here I started breathing oxygen, and I will not breathe natural air until I at lower altitudes on my descent, about four hours later. It gets most of the nitrogen from my body. With increasing altitude, nitrogen bubbles expand, causing severe pain, and can be a fatal disease known as the bends, divers threatening.As I began breathing oxygen, I relax on a bed before starting to draw. I am deeply aware of the activity around me, and I feel strengthened by the thought of our team's diligence and enthusiasm. Some people may wonder how I can have a degree of calm in the light of the work ahead, enjoy, and I think that the answer lies in a four-point philosophy that I have developed:I have confidence in my team.I have confidence in my equipment.

I have confidence in myself.I have faith in God.Secure on these four points, one can face almost anything. To tell the truth, I was able to doze off for a few minutes at the launch site before me jump in November of 1959.At 3:30 pm, T / Sgt. R. A. Daniels and T / Sgt. Eugene Fritz began to dress me. Outside, we mobile cooler roar to life, and a blast of cold air reduce the locker room temperature to 50 ° F [10 ° C]. The chilled air I keep my sweat on layer after layer of clothing. Sweet would cause problems in the cold realm where I go.Johnny and his crew began to blow the balloon up, the prospect of cancellation occurs. The cloud build-up continues, and Duke Gildenberg ordered a short wait. 

The decision to Maj. Irving Levin, Holloman Balloon Branch chief.At this point, the air conditioner sputters and looks to die. With two possible causes for cancellation, our spirits fall.At 04:30, however, prospects brightened again, and take-off time repairing 5:00 to 5:30. And the air conditioner was coaxed back to life. Everyone cheers.The inflation of a large balloon is a dramatic sight. The big bag looks so lifeless as it lay on the ground frantically. But now it store began skyward as a few giant plant, his crown flourish as a flower. 

When I saw his silhouette in the pale dawn, I know the mission approaching reality.Just before 05:00 I leave the dressing trailer, bent and shuffling figure under 155 pounds [70 kilograms] gear just £ 3 and a half kilograms less than my own weight. Beau Daniels lift my truck with the gondola, that the "highest step in the world."Red Flare Signals WarningI'm still breathing oxygen. The air-conditioner hose, with an eight-inch [20-centimeter] diameter, was moved from the trailer, and his flow over me. Team members final checks: electrical circuits, safety plugs, radios, parachutes, cameras, partial oxygen pressure suit. The helmet over my head down, and suddenly I felt a man apart. [Photos: NASA Space Suit Evolution since the first flight.]A red flare arches across the desert, the announcement of everything rises only 10 minutes away.

 The truck trundles me and the gondola to a spot directly under the balloon towering 360 feet [110 meters] tall as a 33-storey building.Balloon and gondola is connected. And close my face plate, two layers of clear plastic separated by a nearly transparent film of gold by an electric current passes to prevent fogging. The aluminized curtain hung around the gondola above my head to reduce my exposure to solar radiation."Well, I think we're about ready to go," said Virginia drawl of Billy Mills over the intercom."Fire!" Sergeant Johnson break.Explosive squibs that hold the balloon tree fire sharp tap, cut the lines, and the rig is stopped only by ties that connect picking gondola to the truck.

"Fire two!" the final assignment.A round of squibs fires, the cutting of truck tires. 05:29 I'm on the road, rising to 1200 feet [370 meters] a minute.In statistical terms, a 1069-pound [185-kilogram], a helium-filled balloon began a 1250-pound [570-kilogram] payload to lift a launch altitude of 4500 feet [1370 meters] to a maximum altitude of 102,800 feet [31,000 meters. My interest in 158 pounds [72 kilograms] of that payload goes beyond the statistical, however. I argue the maxim known for one or other reason than Murphy's First Law: "What can go wrong, go wrong." And I wonder what could go wrong.43,000 feet [13,100 meters] I find. My right hand does not feel normal. I examine the pressure glove; inflating the air bladder.

The prospect of exposing the hand to the near vacuum of peak altitude causes a concern for me. From my previous experience, I know that the hand will swell, losing most of its circulation, and cause severe pain. But I also know that I can still operate the gondola, since all the controls can be manipulated by the flick of a switch or a failure of the hand.I am well aware of all faith, sweat and ride with me on this mission. 

I decided to stay informed without notifying ground control of my problems.Tropopause Barrier Looms AboveI already approaching the halfway mark in vertical distance, but in terms of the obstacles, I still have far to go. One is the tropopause, an atmospheric boundary where I was the coldest temperatures of the flight will encounter. There the balloon's polyethylene material just two thousandths of an inch thick and of the same filmy material used some frozen food and dry-cleaned clothing will contain almost brittle from the cold. 

Any unnecessary stress can lead to a break. About half of the balloon failures occur at the tropopause.The temperature falls gradually until -94 ° F [-70 ° C]. 50,000 feet [15,200 meters], then begins to rise. I was safely past the tropopause barrier.Driven by the prevailing westerly winds, the balloon drifted 15 miles [24 kilometers] east of the launch site. East winds started me back to the target area, however, as predicted.

 But the clouds, far below my failure to act according to estimation. Instead of culling under the sun's heat, they thicken.Each balloon has a uniform limit, the point where its upward velocity creates a performance that is strong enough to threaten damage. 60,000 feet [18,300 meters], my stairs rate closer 1300 feet [400 meters per minute, only 100 short of the balloon's limit. Gildenberg back at Holloman, monitoring my height and ask me to valve off some helium. I do, and climb slowly to a safe 950 feet per minute [300 meters].

As Marv Feldstein continues to advise me of the ground control, I can sense the tension is growing. Our weathermen have noticed a small hole in the clouds to the west of the target area, and figuring out whether the hole will be enlarged and the balloon floats above it.The device that tracks my pulse and breathing on a paper tape broke, and two beautiful nurses were recruited to the sound cardio-respiratory signal to record. 

In effect, their my wrist by remote control, but I think I prefer the old fashioned way.An hour and 31 minutes after launch, my pressure altimeter up to 103,300 feet [31,500 meters. Ground control radar altimeters also stopped on the readings of 102,800 feet [31,300 meters], the figure that we later agree on more reliable. It's 07:00 in the morning, and I have reached float altitude.Help is too far awayA mixed feeling of awe and isolation is the accumulation of all the stairs, and now it is almost overcame me. I felt awe at the thought of the swing easily at a height that man never reached before without the protection of a sealed cabin.

 I feel isolation because I was out of the reach of friends and help if something goes wrong.I want my impressions of this high describe strange world. Quest for the right words, I send a message to ground control:"There is a hostile sky above me you will never conquer space. He can live, but he will never conquer. Sky above is void and very black and very hostile."I am grateful that the balloon slowly turning, because I had a chance to open the horizon by the gondola by cattle.I take note of the change in the color of the sky: normal blue to about 15 degrees above the horizon, then increasingly dark until it reaches the inky depths of the night around the balloon. 

Such a dark sky without stars seem strange, but I looked in vain to find one.I made an exciting discovery. There are clouds on my height. They are so thin that I see them only when my face within 30 degrees of the sun, but then they reflect light with a dazzling white. I remember reports of clouds high, but the sight of them is fantastic.I turned my gaze to the ground under me. I should be able to make a 780-mile-wide [1255-kilometer-wide circle of the surface cattle, but haze curtains horizon, and a large segment of clouds blot out many of the nearer landscape.

 I easily make out the tower head of a thunderstorm a look again later plots near Flagstaff, Arizona, 350 miles [560 kilometers] wide.Burdened by heavy clothing and equipment, I began to pay the physical toll for my height. Every movement requires a high cost in energy. My eyes smart from the fierce glare of the sun. When this ray in the gondola on my left side, I feel the effects of a strong radiation and start to sweat.

 To my right, mostly in the shade, heat escaping from my clothes a vapor as steam. Circulation has almost stopped in my unpressurized right hand, feeling stiff and sore.After nine minutes on the peak, I began to think of the descent and called ground control for an estimate on jumping.The hole in the clouds failed to enlarge. Meanwhile, a 30-knot wind speed beyond me. Duke decided that I should step out of the target zone, despite the thick blanket covering it. Marv relays the words: "Three minutes to jump, Joe."The words are welcome. Activity comes as a relief to the surge of emotions that I have experienced, despite the huge drop in front of me. Besides, the large drop is the only way to get home.

X-minus 70 seconds, I drop the trailing antenna, cut off communication with the ground. I started my countdown, break my ties with the gondola. My seat kit with instruments and camera take over the functions of the supply of oxygen uptake of my heart and breathing rate, keep records of my altitude and azimuth.I start the cameras in the gondola, and then make me suddenly aware of how quiet my stay in space.I count at zero step in space. No wind whistles or wave my clothes. I have absolutely no sense of the increasing speed with which I fall.I let the faces in the clouds. 

Then I roll on my back and an ominous sight. The balloon contrasting stark white with a sky as black as the night, but it's 07:12 in the morning and I'm bathed in the sun. I look to the stars again, but saw no one.When the 6-foot [180 cm] stabilization hood found out, I had already dropped to about 96,000 feet [29,300 meters. I was delighted to find myself completely anchored against the dreaded flat spin. I turned with ease by sticking out an arm and leg.But a new danger threatens. Shortly after I was stabilized, I feel a choking sensation.

 I experienced the same thing on a previous jump, and we have devoted numerous tests to eliminate. As I plummet lower, relieve the sensation, but do not worry remains.Free fall ends in the blanket of cloudsClouds seconds before motionless and seemed remote, up to my now. I have never entered clouds in a free fall, and I had to convince myself that they are mere vapor and solid earth.21,000 feet [6400 meters] thick blanket enveloped me. About 3500 feet [1000 meters] below, 4 minutes, 38 seconds after my fall appeared, my head cut open.

 I can not see the air or ground, but I know that the worst is over.As I disarm my emergency chute and began to disconnect my seat kit, I escape clouds at 15,000 feet [4600 meters] and behold a beautiful face two helicopters circled carefully. I know that the recovery trucks speed toward my destination site.I leave the seat kit, except for a single line. My swollen right hand does not have the power to make that final tie loose, and I can not reach it with my left hand. 

A thousand feet [300 meters above the desert, I stopped trying. I will be with the heavy box dangling uncomfortable for me to land.The landing was as hard as any I've ever made in my life. The seat kit hit my leg, inflicting a serious breach. But I believe in one piece on the ground. I was surrounded by sand, salt grass and sage, but no Garden of Eden could look nicer. The time elapsed since bail-out is 13 minutes, 45 seconds.The helicopters land, and George Post, Gene Fritz, Beau, and Dr. Dick Chubb look at me, all wearing big smiles. 

They removed my helmet and heavy flight clothes.Dick watching the swollen hand with concern. Three hours later the swelling disappeared with no ill effect.So clean, fresh air wash over me, I said, "I am very happy to be back with you all."Just before jumping, I said a prayer, "Lord, take care of me now." After the main parachute opened I said, "Thank you, Lord, for taking care of me during those long fall."Now that I'm safe, I realized how dependent on the protection of the Almighty are all seekers of the unknown.

Next day we plunged ahead with plans for a leap by George Post, who was to be an exact duplicate of me. First we had to determine the cause of the choking experience that worried me during my descent.We have a "hang," a test that suspended with full equipment and ourselves held by parachute harness from overhead hooks. We found a tentative cause: The steel cable anchored helmet pressure suit seems to be to drive, forcing the helmet and the front of the neck ring at the throat.But there are other possibilities had to be eliminated before we could risk a man's life. Reluctantly we decided to cancel George's lead.Balloons soar high and long 

However, we are convinced that the potential for high-altitude research balloons barely scratched. Consider, for example, that my balloon by no means exhausted his ability to keep me on the peak height. It could have kept me there for hours. Although experimental aircraft took men keep their peaks higher for a few seconds.Consider just one finding of my Excelsior III jump. Doctors now know that, although my heart rate hit 156, a healthy man who is properly equipped can safely spend tremendous energy in space for short periods.Is of the opinion that solar radiation quickly made me sweat, but the temperature at float altitude reading -36 ° F [-38 ° C].

 This experience back evidence that the temperature definitions up into space. You can on the one hand baking, freezing on the other hand, regardless of what the thermometer says.Consider that my gondola stairs and open parachute jump my space conditions exposed more than any other man, without adverse consequences.For the future, I can at least three different categories of manned balloons can play a valuable role in space research.First there astrophysics. The earth's atmosphere, a curtain of diffuse materials, bends light rays, hide all galaxies from view, and makes stars appear to twinkle when they are not. If we have a telescope, an astronomer sitting in a gondola and take him up for a clear view, we will see the heavens with new eyes.

Secondly, the balloon test life-support systems for space. A complete life-sustaining system can be taken, component by component, and actual performance proved.Third, the balloon is a perfect coach for spacemen. If you isolate the men in lab space, the students know that help is just a few feet away. Help in a balloon kilometers above the earth, a long way off, and teaches the pupil she would work with that fact in mind.When I think of the great possibilities of the balloon, I marvel that it is so little used in man's attempt to enter space. I sincerely hope that we will fail to benefit from the high-altitude balloon flight lessons can we learn before we commit a man to the infinite beyond the world we know.

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