ObFreeFallSpaceJump post: a little detail I was glad to discover

Because I obviously haven’t been paying enough attention, I hadn’t realised that Joseph Kittinger, the USAF officer who previously held the record for highest/fastest freefall parachute jump after the 1959-60 Project Excelsior research into high-altitude bailouts (and thus was also the first human in space (Yuri Gagarin’s orbit in 1961 made him the first human to reach outer space)), was part of the team for Felix Baumgartner’s successful attempt on those records (for Science!). 

Felix Baumgartner and Joe Kittinger post together before Baumgartner's jump

Felix Baumgartner (Red Bull Stratos) and Joe Kittinger (Project Excelsior) together

Because Baumgartner travelled so much faster through the atmosphere his jump lasted for a shorter time (4:10), thus Kittinger retains his record (4:36) for the longest freefall parachute jump (with drogue - Eugene Andreev (USSR) retains the record (4:20) for longest freefall parachute jump without a drogue (1962)) .

Kittinger was a member of the mission control and helped design the capsule and suit that Baumgartner ascended and jumped in. Kittinger´s record for longest free fall was not broken.
Source: Wikipedia

That thrills me because it was one of my favourite aspects of a poster I used to have celebrating landmarks in space exploration (I never threw it out, it must still be around her somewhere!) – this tiny helium balloon at the edge of the atmosphere with Kittinger jumping from it – most people I pointed it out to had never even heard of it happening.

a photograph taken from the helium gondola which took Kittinger through the atmosphere - Kittinger has just stepped off the gondola into space

Joe Kittinger, first man in space (USAF photo)

Photo taken from helium gondola which carried Kittinger through the atmosphere: Kittinger is well below the camera in his pressurised suit, falling towards the outline of landmasses below

The Lonely Leap (USAF photo)

An independent documentary about Kittinger’s famous jump came out in 2011 – The Lonely Leap (which was the name of Kittinger’s book about it all).

Before the Space Race.
Before the Apollo program.
Before there were astronauts.
One man went into space, without a rocket.

This is the forgotten story of the first man to walk in space, and his extraordinary journey back to earth.

Obviously Bamgartner’s jump is damn impressive, although with all the technological edge of 5 decades of advances in materials and aeronautical knowledge it’s intriguing that the record-breaking differences appear so incremental. But when Kittinger went up for Excelsior I, they didn’t even know whether his pressurised suit would keep him alive in space: that was truly research that broke new ground.

Categories: history, Life, technology

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2 replies

  1. Wow, those photos of Kittinger are pretty cool. He looks like he’s held together with duct tape and string! Quite a comparison to the space suit sort of a thing Baumgartner was wearing.

  2. That suit looks well dodgy, doesn’t it? On Excelsior III the pressurised glove on one of his hands wasn’t quite fully sealed – when he landed that hand was twice the size of the other one! Luckily there didn’t seem to be any permanent damage from that.
    He looks extremely fit and lively for 83 years old, too.

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