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1960 News Abstracts

LIFE, August 29, 1960: See also 40th Anniversary
Cover & p. 20 - FANTASTIC CATCH IN THE SKY, RECORD LEAP TOWARD EARTH SPACE RACE SOARS WITH A VENGEANCE The space race went on with a vengeance last week. The U.S. produced a new space hero, Air Force Captain Joseph Kittinger, who jumped from an open balloon gondola at 102,800 feet -the highest man has ever gone in an unpowered flight. He plummeted toward earth for 16 miles before his main chute opened, in the longest free fall in history. As Kittinger fell, automatic cameras in the gondola caught some of the most exciting pictures of a man's daring ever made (see cover). After fishing a Discoverer out of the ocean (LIFE, Aug. 22), the U.S. launched another last week and picked it up - this time in midair with a fantastic demonstration of aerial coordination 8,500 feet above the Pacific. The Soviet Union topped this feat by recovering a mammoth five-ton satellite and a capsule carrying two dogs. The size of the satellite indicated that the Russians maintain their commanding lead in the rocket thrust needed to place heavy objects in space. Bringing animals back alive means that they have solved the most difficult basic problem of re-entry. Kittinger's jump had another purpose: to test man's ability to persevere high above the earth. Despite heavy equipment - including a 57-pound instrument pack strapped under him like a seat - he found it easy to maneuver. "All I had to do was point my left foot outward to make a right turn," he said. "To stop, I merely stuck my right foot out for a second." Kittinger also radioed back a frightening firsthand view of space, applying equally to Americans and to the Russians. "There is a hostile sky above me," he said. "Man may live in space, but he will never conquer it." Cover - RECORD JUMP STARTS NINETEEN MILES UP Picture p.20/1 - CATCHING CAPSULE, cable stretching out from Air Force cargo plane reels in Discoverer and parachute which lowered it from orbit. The plane made three passes, missed the capsule on first two tries. Picture p.20/2 - SHIELDING EYES against the sun, Kittinger is photographed during ascent by camera ifs gondola. Picture p.21/1 - Starting jump, Kittinger drags cord which will snap loose from pack to activate parachute timer. Picture p.22/1 - 200-feet-per-second fall ... Picture p.23/1 - ...clouds 15 miles below Picture p.24/1 - Balloon goes up carrying Kittinger in open gondola against red sky of sunrise over New Mexico. Balloon filled out as it rose into thinner air, took one hour and 43 minutes to reach altitude of jump. Picture p.24/2 - Chute comes down as Kittinger floats over pond 20 miles from ascent, half mile from landing. Picture p.24/3 - Man is Down - Kittinger holds hands out for doctor. Defective glove caused right hand to swell. Picture p.25/1 - Stripping, Kittinger shows pattern of special waffle-weave underwear worn under pressure suit. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, December, 1960: V.118, N.6, p. 854 - THE LONG, LONELY LEAP World's highest jump tests a new type of parachute for high-altitude flyers and scientists returning from the threshold of space By CAPT. JOSEPH W. KITTINGER, JR., USAF Illustrations by National Geographic photographer VOLKMAR WENTZEL OVERHEAD my onion-shaped balloon spread its 200-foot diameter against a black daytime sky. More than 18 1/2 miles below lay the cloud-hidden New Mexico desert to which I shortly would parachute. Sitting in my gondola, which gently twisted with the balloon's slow turnings, I had begun to sweat lightly, though the temperature read 36 below zero Fahrenheit. Sunlight burned in on me under the edge of an aluminized antiglare curtain and through the gondola's open door. In my earphones crackled the voice of Capt. Marvin Feldstein, one of our project's two doctors, from ground control at Holloman Air Force Base: "Three minutes till jump, Joe." I was ready to go, for more reasons than one. For about an hour - as the balloon rose from 50,000 to 102,800 feet above sea level - I had been exposed to an environment requiring the protection of a pressure suit and helmet, and the fear of their failure had always been present. If either should break, unconsciousness would come in 10 or 12 seconds, and death within two minutes. In our altitude-chamber flights at the laboratory, I always knew that if something went wrong, the chamber pressure could be increased immediately, returning me to safety. Doctors stood just a few feet away, watching through a porthole for any sign of malfunction. But here in the eerie silence of space, I knew that my life depended entirely upon my equipment, my own actions, and the presence of God. Aerodynamically, space begins about 120 miles from earth. Physiologically and psychologically, however, it starts only 12 miles up, where survival requires elaborate protection against an actual space environment. Thanks to my dedicated Project Excelsior team, I had twice before penetrated this realm in an open gondola to make test jumps from 14-mile heights. Now I had climbed to l9it2 miles above sea level, where the physical and mental hazards were much greater, for a more conclusive test of our space-survival and parachute escape systems. The idea of men reaching toward space with balloons and parachutes in the age of jet planes and rockets may seem strange. Actually, it makes the best kind of sense. No powered aircraft can put man into a space environment and keep him there for a sustained period of time. But the lighter-than-air balloon, man's oldest flight vehicle, can. Twenty-five years ago last month, two Army Air Corps captains, Albert W. Stevens and Orvil A. Anderson, took the balloon Explorer II to the then unprecedented height of 72,395 feet-13.71 miles. Their pressurized gondola and its instruments constituted a two-and-a-quarter-ton payload. Results of this famous National Geographic Society- U. S. Army Air Corps stratosphere flight are studied by airmen to this day.* To understand the need for a high-altitude escape system, consider the plight of an airman who has to bail out above 20,000 feet. He faces two choices, either of which could be fatal. Should he open his chute immediately after bail-out from a speeding craft, he risks death from his canopy's opening shock, from lack of oxygen, or from severe cold. Flat spin imperils him if he tries to fall free to lower, livable altitudes before opening his chute. His body may whirl like a runaway propeller. Flat spin is a characteristic of any falling object that is aerodynamically unstable. Dummies dropped from balloons up to 100,000 feet have attained 200 revolutions per minute, whereas tests show that 140 r.p.m. would be harmful, possibly fatal. The problem was to get a man down fast to lower levels before opening his chute, but at the same time to safeguard him against flat spin. The answer came from Francis Beaupre of the Air Force's Aero- space Medical Division. His organization is part of the Air Research and Development Command's Wright Air Development Division, which directed our project. Beau asked himself: Why not use a small parachute to stabilize a man during free fall, as a sea anchor steadies a ship? He started to work on what was to become the Beaupre stabilization parachute, one of the few major innovations in parachutes since the seat-pack type won the approval of the Army back in 1919. Beau's chute consists of three units: a conventional, spring-type chute to catch the wind and provide the pull to open the next unit; a 6-foot-wide stabilization canopy to prevent flat spin during free fall; and finally a conventional 2 8-foot chute to open at about 18,000 feet. PARACHUTE OPENS TOO SOON In October, 1959, we made the first jumps with the Beaupre parachute, leaping from a C-130 Lockheed Hercules at 28,000 feet. I made the first leap, M/Sgt. George A. Post the second, and Capt. Harry Collins the third. The chute worked beautifully, and we felt ready for higher altitudes. But something went wrong on my first bail-out from a balloon, on November 16, 1959. Before I jumped from the gondola at 76,400 feet, the timer lanyard of the stabilization unit was pulled prematurely and the 6-foot canopy and shrouds popped out after only two seconds of free fall, instead of 16, promptly fouling around me. At first I thought I might retard the free spin that began to envelop me, but despite my efforts I whirled faster and faster. Soon I knew there was nothing I could do. I thought this .vas the end. I began to pray, and then I lost consciousness. I owe my life to my emergency parachute, set to open automatically at 10,000 feet. When I came to, I was floating lazily down beneath the beautiful canopy of the emergency chute. I want to tell you I had a long thank-you session with the good Lord right then and there. I knew that Beaupre's ideas were sound, despite the results of the first jump, and by December 11 we were ready to prove it. This time I jumped from the gondola at 74,700 feet, and everything worked perfectly. Next came the big test, Excelsior III, from above 100,000 feet. The date was August 16, 1960. Vivid in my mind as I swung there were the events of the past few hours. JUMP PROJECT GOES INTO HIGH GEAR Our project really begins to gain speed on the eve of the jump. Alerts go out to the launch crew, ground control station, Holloman base weathermen, and all support units. Clearance for use of the White Sands Missile Range, the approximately 100-by-40-mile test basin, is obtained from the Army. We brief our own crew and the pilots of the support aircraft. Technicians swarm around the 4i/2-foot- wide gondola. First Lt. Don Fordham and civilian Don Griggs check the electronics control systems. Airman 1/c Frank Hale, a parachutist himself, joins Beau in testing canopies, shrouds, cables, and lanyards. Another veteran jumper, Capt. Billy Mills, our cigar-chewing assistant project officer, oversees prelaunch check lists of more than 1,000 entries. The gondola's 12 camera eyes-including one provided by the National Geographic Society-are mounted by Ken Arnold and Gene Gallatin. Plastic water bottles and aluminum foil shield the cameras and other equipment against the cold. As launch-day-minus-one progresses, I come under the close scrutiny of our two project physicians. For a week I have been on a high-protein, low-residue diet, and I avoid gas-producing foods. Gas expands with increasing altitude, so that air trapped in my stomach or intestines could cause pain so severe that I could be forced to jump prematurely. The diet is mainly meat and potatoes. The doctors also take a final look at ears, nose, and throat. Any air pocketed in the body could force me down too soon. By afternoon, work halts for most of our team, but our weathermen, Duke Gildenberg and Ralph Reynolds, are facing their most intricate task. They must bring me to earth in an 11-milesquare target area about 25 miles northwest of Holloman. They must predict weather conditions for the following morning high aloft as well as on the ground, and decide if surface winds will permit a safe take-off. Checking with Holloman base weathermen, they reach a favorable decision and choose an abandoned dirt airstrip 18 miles from the base as the launching site. Forty-five minutes before midnight a convoy of some 20 vehicles heads northeast through Alamogordo. Frightening jack rabbits as they turn onto the old airstrip, vehicles wheel into position amid mesquite and greasewood. Mobile generators start, communications antennas are mounted, and the first of the hourly pilot balloons, called pibals for short, wavers aloft to provide a wind reading. The gondola, on a flat-bed truck, becomes the center of activity as it gets a final grooming. Some 300 feet away, T/Sgt. Melvin 12). Johnson directs the balloon launching crew. GROUND CREW TO MONITOR FLIGHT At Holloman the men who operate the ground control station begin reporting for duty at midnight. They will monitor my progress over radio and radar networks, plot my position, advise me when to valve and when to ballast, and, finally, give the word on when to jump. Ten minutes after I bail out, ground control will beam the signal that will cut the gondola from the balloon, returning it and its valuable instruments to earth by parachute. At first this method was risky because chance radio signals could also act as a trigger. In 1955 a balloon gondola-luckily with no human passengers-was cut down when a commercial station blared "Tiger Rag." Dave Willard, electronics chief of the Holloman Balloon Branch, solved the problem. He developed a transistorized device that serves, in effect, as a skyborne lock which only a special electronic key transmitted from the ground station will open. I can go up now with full assurance that no burst of jazz or rock 'n' roll will end the flight prematurely. I am the only man who gets a chance to sleep late before a launch. About 1:30 on the afternoon preceding the flight, Marv Feldstein hands me two sleeping pills and a medical journal, his sure prescription for sleep. About 7 p.m. I awake for a steak supper. Still sleepy, I rest four hours longer. Then Beau Beaupre announces: "Captain Joe, time to wake up." It has become a tradition that Beau and Ken Arnold drive me to the launch site. It is also traditional that we stop for breakfast, which this time consisted of orange juice and strawberry shortcake. As I finish my meal, I tell Beau: "That sure was a good breakfast, and it's nice of you to pay for it." Of course, Beau hasn't yet offered to pay, but he does, because this also is traditional. I always like to be in debt when I jump. We reach the launch site at 2 a.m. and find Duke Gildenberg uneasy. Clouds moving up from Texas complicate weather prediction. George Post tells me the flight clothing is ready. The Air Force's most experienced test parachutist, he has been jumping since 1943 and wears the Distinguished Flying Cross. It is good to know that he will be watching every piece of my gear (page 858). He, better than anyone else, knows the stress to which I and my equipment will be exposed. One item of business remains. The previous week, my five-year-old son Mark was eating breakfast at our Dayton, Ohio, home when he noticed a car license plate printed on his box of cereal. He decided that his father's gondola should be properly licensed, so he clipped the tag from the box and had his mother mail it to me. As I watch, it is carefully taped to the gondola. The license tag is that of the State of Oregon. Our Project Excelsior group is stationed in Ohio, we are launching in New Mexico, our team members hail from several States. Truly we have a national effort. OXYGEN GUARDS AGAINST BENDS At 3 o'clock I enter the trailer that we use as a dressing room. Here I start breathing oxygen,and I will not take a breath of natural air until I reach lower altitudes on my descent, some four hours later. This gets most of the nitrogen out of my body. With increasing altitude, nitrogen forms bubbles that expand, cause severe pain, and can be fatal-an ailment known as the bends, which also threatens divers. As I begin breathing oxygen, I relax on a cot before beginning to dress. I am profoundly aware of the activity around me, and I feel strengthened at the thought of our team's thoroughness and enthusiasm. Some people may wonder how I could enjoy any degree of equanimity in view of the job ahead, and I think that the answer lies in a four-point philosophy that I have developed: I must have confidence in my team. I must have confidence in my equipment. I must have confidence in myself. I must have confidence in God. Secure on these four points, a man can face almost anything. In fact, I had been able to doze off for a few minutes at the launch site before my jump in November of 1959. At 3:30 o'clock, T/Sgt. R. A. Daniels and T/Sgt. Eugene Fritz start to dress me (page 859). Outside, our mobile cooler roars to life, and a blast of cold air lowers the dressing room temperature to 50 F. The chilled air keeps me from sweating as I put on layer after layer of clothing. Perspiration would cause trouble in the cold realm where I am going. As Johnny and his crew begin to inflate the balloon (page 860), the prospect of cancellation arises. The cloud build-up is continuing, and Duke Gildenberg advises a brief wait. The decision is up to Maj. Irving Levin, Holloman Balloon Branch chief. At this point the air conditioner sputters and seems about to die. With two possible causes for cancellation, our spirits fall. By 4:30, however, weather prospects have brightened, and take-off time is reset from 5 o'clock to 5:30. And the air conditioner is coaxed back to life. Everyone cheers up. The inflation of a large balloon is a dramatic sight. The big bag seems so lifeless as it lies formless on the ground. But now it begins to mount skyward like some giant plant, its crown blooming like a flower. When I see its silhouette in the pale dawn, I know the mission is nearing reality (page 865). Just before 5 o'clock I leave the dressing trailer, a bent and shuffling figure under 155 pounds of gear-just three pounds less than my own weight. Beau and Daniels lift me to the truck bearing the gondola, then up that "highest step in the world" (opposite). RED FLARE SIGNALS WARNING I am still breathing oxygen. The air-conditioner hose, with an eight-inch diameter, is shifted from the trailer, and its flow is directed over me. Team members make final checks: electrical circuits, safety plugs, radios, parachutes, cameras, partial pressure suit, oxygen. The helmet is lowered over my head, and suddenly I feel a man apart. A red flare arcs across the desert, announcing to all that take-off is just 10 minuses away. The truck trundles me and the gondola to a spot directly beneath the balloon-now towering 360 feet, tall as a 33-story building. Balloon and gondola are connected. Dan closes and locks my face plate, two layers of clear plastic separated by an almost trans parent film of gold through which an electric current passes to prevent fogging. The aluminized curtain is hung around the gondola above my head to reduce my exposure to solar radiation. "Well, I believe we're about ready to go," says the Virginia drawl of Billy Mills over the interphone. "Fire one!" Sergeant Johnson snaps. The explosive squibs that hold balloon to crane boom fire sharply,- cutting the lines, and the rig is now restrained only by straps that connect the tugging gondola to the truck. "Fire two!" comes the final command. A second round of squibs fires, cutting the truck straps. At 5:29 a.m. I am on the way up, rising at 1,200 feet a minute. In statistical terms, a 1,069-pound, helium- filled balloon has begun to lift a 1,250-pound payload from a launch elevation of 4,500 feet to a maximum altitude of 102,800 feet. My interest in 158 pounds of that payload goes beyond the statistical, however. I ponder the maxim known for some reason as Murphy's First Law: "What can go wrong, will go wrong." And I wonder what could go wrong. At 43,000 feet I find out. My right hand does not feel normal. I examine the pressure glove; its air bladder is not inflating. The prospect of exposing the hand to the near-vacuum of peak altitude causes me some concern. From my previous experiences, I know that the hand will swell, lose most of its circulation, and cause extreme pain. I also know, however, that I can still operate the gondola, since all the controls can be manipulated by the flick of a switch or a nudge of the hand. I am acutely aware of all the faith, sweat, and work that are riding with me on this mission. I decide to continue the ascent, without notifying ground control of my difficulty. TROPOPAUSE BARRIER LOOMS ABOVE I am already approaching the halfway mark in vertical distance, but in terms of obstacles to be faced, I still have far to go. One is the tropopause, an atmospheric boundary where I will encounter the coldest temperatures of the flight. There the balloon's polyethylene fabric-only two-thousandths of an inch thick and of the same filmy material used to contain some frozen foods and dry-cleaned clothes - will become almost brittle from the cold. Any undue strain can cause a rupture. About half of balloon failures occur at the tropopause. The temperature drops steadily until it reaches -94 F. at 50,000 feet, then starts to rise. I have safely passed the tropopause barrier. Propelled by the prevailing westerlies, the balloon has drifted 15 miles east of the launch site. However, easterlies start me back toward the target area as predicted (map, page 861). But the clouds, now far below me, fail to act according to forecast. Instead of thinning under the sun's heat, they thicken. Every balloon has a drag limit, the point at which its upward velocity creates a drag strong enough to threaten damage. At 60,000 feet, my ascent rate approaches 1,300 feet per minute, only lOO.short of the balloon's limit. Gildenberig, back fat Holloman, is monitoring my ascent and asks me to valve off some helium. I do so, and my climb slows to a safe 950 feet per minute. As Marv Feldstein continues to advise me from ground control, I can sense that the tension there is growing. Our weather men have spotted a small hole in the clouds, west of the target area, and are figuring whether the hole will enlarge and whether the balloon will drift above it. The device that traces my pulse and breathing on a paper tape has broken, and two pretty nurses have been recruited to record the audio heart-respiratory signal. In effect, they are taking my pulse by remote control, but I think I prefer the old-fashioned way. An hour and thirty-one minutes after launch, my pressure altimeter halts at 103,300 feet. At ground control the radar altimeters also have stopped-on readings of 102,800 feet, the figure that we later agree upon as the more reliable. It is 7 o'clock in the morning, and I have reached float altitude. HELP LIES TOO FAR AWAY A mixed feeling of awe and remoteness has been building up all through the ascent, and now it almost overcomes me. I feel awe at the thought of floating easily at a height that man has never achieved before without the protection of a sealed cabin. I feel remoteness because I am beyond reach of help and friends if anything should go wrong. I want to describe my impressions of this high, alien world. Striving for the right words, I send a message to ground control: "There is a hostile sky above me. Man will never conquer space. He may live in it, but he will never conquer it. The sky above is void and very black and very hostile." I am grateful that the balloon revolves slowly, because I have a chance to sweep the horizon through the gondola's open door. I note the change in the sky's hue: normal blue to about 15 degrees above the horizon, then increasingly dark until it attains the inky depth of night around the balloon. Such a dark sky without stars seems strange, but I stare in vain to find just one. I make one exciting discovery. There are clouds at my altitude. They are so thin that I see them only when my vision comes within 30 degrees of the sun, but then they reflect the light with a dazzling whiteness. I remember reports of clouds this high, but the actual sight of them is fantastic. I turn my gaze to the earth below me. I should be able to sweep a 780-mile-wide circle of the surface, but haze curtains the horizon, and large segments of clouds blot out much of the nearer landscape. I easily make out the towering head of a thunderstorm that a weather check later plots near Flagstaff, Arizona, 350 miles distant. Burdened by heavy clothes and gear, I begin to pay the physical toll for my altitude. Every move demands a high cost in energy. My eyes smart from the fierce glare of the sun. When it beams in the gondola door on my left side, I feel the effect of strong radiation and begin to sweat. On my right side, mostly in shadow, heat escaping from my garments makes a vapor like steam. Circulation has almost stopped in my unpressurized right hand, which feels stiff and painful. 'After nine minutes at peak altitude, I begin to think of the descent and call ground control for an estimate on jump time. The hole in the clouds has failed to enlarge. Meanwhile, a 30-knot wind speeds me west. Duke decides that I should step out over the target zone, despite the thick blanket that covers it. Marv relays the word: "Three minutes till jump, Joe." The words are welcome. Activity comes as a relief to the surge of emotions I have~experienced, despite the big drop ahead of me. Besides, the big drop is the only way home. At X-minus-70-seconds, I drop the trailing antenna, cutting communications with the ground. I begin my countdown, severing one by one my ties to the gondola. My seat kit with its instruments and camera takes over the functions of supplying my oxygen, recording my heart and respiratory rate, keeping records of my altitude and azimuth. I start the cameras in the gondola, and their clicking makes me abruptly aware of how silent my stay in space has been. At zero count I step into space (page 855). No wind whistles or billows my clothing. I have absolutely no sensation of the increasing speed with which I fall. I drop facing the clouds. Then I roll over on my back and find an eerie sight. The white balloon contrasts starkly with a sky as black as night, though it is 7:12 in the morning and I am bathed in sunshine. Again I look for stars, but see none. When the 6-foot stabilization canopy pops out, I already have dropped to about 96,000 feet. I am delighted to find myself perfectly anchored against the dreaded flat spin. I turn with ease by sticking out an arm and leg. However, a new danger threatens. Soon after I become stabilized, I feel a choking sensation. I had experienced the same thing on a previous jump, and we had devoted countless tests to eliminating it. As I plummet lower, the sensation eases but worry remains. FREE FALL ENDS IN BLANKET OF CLOUDS The clouds, which seconds before seemed motionless and remote, now rush up at me. I have never entered clouds in a free fall before, and I have to persuade myself that they are mere vapor and not solid earth. At 21,000 feet the thick blanket envelops me. Some 3,500 feet lower, and 4 minutes, 38 seconds after my fall began, my main canopy pops open. I can see neither sky nor ground, but I know the worst is over. As I disarm my emergency chute and begin disconnecting my seat kit, I escape clouds at -15,000 feet and behold a beautiful sight-two helicopters circling attentively. I know that recovery trucks speed toward my landing site. I detach the seat kit except for a single line. My swollen right hand lacks the strength to unfasten that final tie, and I can't reach it with my left. A thousand feet above the desert, I stop trying. I will have to land with the heavy box dangling awkwardly at my side. The landing is as hard as any I have ever made in my life. The seat kit strikes my leg, inflicting a severe bruise. But I am on the ground, apparently in one piece. I am surrounded by sand, salt grass, and sage, but no Garden of Eden could look more beautiful. The elapsed time since bail-out is 13 minutes, 45 seconds. The helicopters land, and George Post, Gene Fritz, Beau, and Dr. Dick Chubb dash toward me, all wearing big smiles. They remove my helmet and heavy flight garments. Dick looks at the swollen hand with concern (page 872). Three hours later the swelling will have disappeared with no ill effect. As clean, fresh air washes over me, I say, "I'm very glad to be back with you all." Just before jumping, I had said a prayer, "Lord, take care of me now." After the main chute opened I said, "Thank you, Lord, for taking care of me during that long fall." Now that I am safely down, I realize once again how dependent upon the protection of the Almighty are all seekers of the unknown. Next day we plunged ahead with plans for a jump by George Post, which was to be an exact duplicate of mine. First we had to pin- point the cause of the choking experience that worried me during my descent. We held a "hanging," a test in which we put on full equipment and suspended ourselves by parachute harness from overhead hooks. We found a tentative cause: The steel cable that anchored helmet to pressure suit seemed to be riding up, forcing the helmet and front of the neck ring against the throat. But other possibilities had to be eliminated before we could risk a man's life. Reluctantly we decided to cancel George's jump. BALLOONS FLOAT HIGH AND LONG We are convinced, however, that the potential of balloons for high-altitude research has barely been scratched. Consider, for example, that my balloon had by no means exhausted its ability to keep me at peak altitude. It could have kept me there for hours. Though experimental aircraft have taken men higher, they have held their peaks for mere seconds. Consider, also, just one finding of my Excelsior III jump. Doctors now know that, although my pulse rate hit 156, a healthy man properly equipped can safely expend tremendous energy in space for brief periods. Consider that solar radiation quickly caused me to perspire, though the temperature at float altitude read -36 F. This experience backs evidence that temperature definitions break down in space. You can bake on one side, freeze on the other, regardless of what the thermometer says. Consider that my open-gondola ascent and parachute jump exposed me to space conditions longer than any other man, without harmful effects. For the future, I can see at least three distinct categories in which manned balloons can play a valuable role in space research. First, there is astrophysics. The earth's atmosphere, a curtain of diffuse substances, bends light rays, hides entire galaxies from view, and makes stars seem to twinkle when they don't at all. If we could put an astronomer with a telescope in a gondola and take him aloft for an unimpeded view, we would see the heavens with new eyes. Second, the balloon can test life-support systems for space. A complete life-sustaining system can be taken up, component by component, and be proved under actual performance conditions. Third, the balloon can be a perfect trainer for spacemen. Though you isolate men in laboratory spaceships, the trainees know that help is just a few feet away. In a balloon miles above the earth, assistance is a long way off, and the trainee would learn his job with that fact in mind. When I think of the great possibilities of the balloon, I marvel that it hats been so little utilized in man's bid to enter space. I earnestly hope we will not fail to take advantage of the lessons high-altitude balloon flights can teach us before we commit a man to the infinite reaches beyond the world we know. ------------------------------------------------ *See "Man's Farthest Aloft," by Capt. Albert W. Stevens, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, January, 1936; also "The National Geographic Society-U. S. Army Air Corps Stratosphere Flight of 1935 in the Balloon 'Explorer II,'" a volume of technical papers published by The Society (out of print but available in many libraries). --------------------------------------------------------------------- FROM SPEEDBOATS TO JETS TO BALLOONS THE AUTHOR raced speedboats as a teenager in his native Florida, became an Air Force jet pilot in his 20's, and turned space prober in his 30's. Captain Kittinger, now 32, learned the fascination of research in Project Manhigh, riding a balloon's pressurized gondola to 96,200 feet in 1957. The flight tested equipment for Lt. Col. David G. Simons's ascent to 101,516 feet. Two years earlier Kittinger flew the observation plane that monitored Col. John Paul Stapp's rocket-sled run of 632 miles an hour. Kittinger was impressed by the dedication of Colonel Stapp, a pioneer in space medicine. Stapp, in turn, noted the flyer's zeal and skillful jet piloting, recommended him for space-aviation work, and fostered the high-altitude tests that led to Kittinger's record leap last August 16. The colonel provided the project's Latin name, Excelsior, meaning "ever upward." For an open-gondola jump from 14 miles in 1959, Kittinger received this year's Harmon Trophy for aeronauts and the Leo Stevens parachute medal. He also added an Oak Leaf Cluster to his Distinguished Flying Cross. Mrs. Kittinger is the former Pauline Bauer, whom the author met while serving in Germany. They have two sons, Joseph III, 8, and Mark, 5. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Picture p. 854/1- "Lord, take care of me now," I pray, then take the big step-off that begins my return from the edge of space, a 13-minute, 45-second plunge to an earth wrapped in clouds. The lanyard attached to my parachute pack is my last link with the gondola. it starts a timer on a small stabilization chute that will open 16 seconds later and prevent horizontal spinning. Without stabilization, man could not survive a jump from these high altitudes. A National Geographic camera mounted above the gondola took this remarkable photograph at 102,800 feet. HS EKTACHROME (c) NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY Photo p. 856/1 - No wind whistles or tugs at me in the initial drop. I accelerate with the speed of an object falling in a vacuum. Every second I drop 22 miles an hour faster but have no sensation of velocity. In eerie silence, earth, sky, and departing balloon revolve around me as if I were the center of the universe. I feel like a man in suspended animation. Though my stabilization chute opens at 96,000 feet, I accelerate for 6,000 feet more before hitting a peak of 614 miles an hour, nine-tenths the speed of sound at my altitude. An Air Force camera on the gondola took this photograph when the cotton clouds still lay 80,000 feet below. At 21,000 feet they rushed up so chillingly that I had to remind myself they were vapor and not solid. HIGH SPEED EKTACHROME by UNITED STATES AIR FORCE (c) N.G.S. Photo p. 858/1 -That red hunting cap has now accompanied me to the launch site on three balloon jumps. I'm not superstitious, but why change a winning combination? Three hours before take-off, I discuss details with the Air Force's most experienced test parachutist, George Post. Photo p. 858/2 - To prevent the bends, I begin to breathe oxygen two hours before launch to decrease my body nitrogen. T/Sgt. R. A. Daniels adjusts a belt that monitors pulse, heart, and breathing. Dr. Richard Chubb, with earphones, checks the belt. Photo p. 860/1 - Limp balloon in its red plastic cover scarcely looks like a space vehicle. Directed by T/Sgt. Melvin Johnson (left), launchers thread the upper portion through the launch arm and install a helium release valve in the top before starting inflation. HS Ektachrome (c) National Geographic Society Chart p. 861/1 - Oblique view based on U.S.Army Relief Map. Curving climb and abrupt dive took me to space and back. Winds blew me east in the troposphere, west in the stratosphere, so that I landed on target. Air at the jump point thinned - to an eightieth of sea-level density. Photo p. 863/1- "Highest step in the world," says the sign beneath the gondola door. The statement holds true whether you are getting in, as I am here, or jumping out. Francis Beaupre (left), developer of my stabilization parachute, and Sergeant Daniels struggle to lift me aboard. With full gear I total 313 pounds, almost twice my actual weight. The check list shows 40 minutes until launch. HS EKTACHROME (c) NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY Photo p. 864/1- My space helmet allows scant head turning, as this dress-rehearsal photograph shows. If I turn an inch to the right, the headpiece wrinkles my skin. Safety demands a tight fit, however. Plastic visor locks down over my face. Photo p.865/1- As the Countdown Nears Zero, the Expanding Balloon Reflects a Pale Dawn Under the white helmet, I sit in the open, unpressurized gondola on an abandoned air- strip northeast of Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Teammates cluster around to make final checks, review flight procedures, and wish me luck. Cameras mounted above the gondola hold film to capture man's most dramatic leap from space. HS EKTACHROME BY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHER VOLKMAR WENTZEL (c) N.G.S. Photo p. 866/1- Blinding sun compels me to shade my eyes at 102,800 feet. At peak altitude I am exposed to solar radiation almost twice as intense as that at sea level. The aluminized antiglare curtain above my head provides only partial protection; it does not cover the gondola's open door, through which sunlight now streams. An automatic camera took this picture. KODACHROMES BY UNITED STATES AIR FORCE (c) N.G.S. Photo p. 867/1- The balloon swells with height. At peak altitude its diameter will span two-thirds the length of a football field. M/Sgt. H. S. Coker, in a jet bomber, snapped this final photograph at 40,000 feet; the horizon is lost in haze. Suspended in the gondola 360 feet below the balloon's crown, I soon observe that my right pressure glove isn't working, but I keep the worry to myself. Chart p. 868/1 -I make one breath last through virtually the entire unstabilized free fall, a reaction of which I was unaware until I saw the graph above. A sharp break at 15 seconds marks my gasp when the pilot chute opened with a pop before pulling out the stabilization chute a second later. The pulse trace shows up to 156 beats a minute; my normal is 80. Static blurs the electrocardiogram's measure of exertion. Instruments in my seat kit recorded these data. Film in a gondola camera shows me falling away at distances of 50, 100, and 165 feet, all in the first 3.2 seconds. Photo p.870/1 - A happy jumper swings under his parachute. While in clouds at 17,500 feet, my main chute blossomed, and now I float into sight of a New Mexico desert dotted with ponds from recent rains. My stabilization chute, so vital during the free fall, lies collapsed atop the main canopy. The three-foot pilot chute dangles below it. HS EKTACHROME TAKEN FROM HELICOPTER BY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHER VOLKMAR WENTZEL (c) N.G.S. Photo p. 872/1 - My swollen night hand, result of the pressure-glove failure, gets immediate attention from Dr. Chubb, who compares it with my left. In three hours the swelling vanished with no ill effect. A break in helmet or pressure suit would have snuffed out my life. Photo p. 873/1 -Sprawled on the ground where I fell, I hear a helicopter land. Then Beaupre, Post, Gene Fritz, and Dr. Chubb surround me, remove heavy Right clothing, and assure themselves that I am safe. Remembering my hard, awkward impact, I remark: "That was no landing; I just came down the best way I could." "Any landing that you walk away from," Post replies, "is a good landing." Photo p. 873/2 -Back from the unknown, I count the gains: knowledge that man can work in space for limited periods and parachute back to earth. Profoundly grateful, I relish the luxuries of companionship and security. HS EKTACHROMES (c) NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY Sources: LIFE Time & Life Building Rockefeller Center New York 20, N.Y. Author, Joseph K. Kittinger, Jr. Col. Joe's Adventures, Inc. 608 Mariner Way Altamonte Springs, FL 32701-5434 JK004
Muff used to protect hands in Excelsior I jump in 1959 (281x480 jpg)


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