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    Skydiving from the Edge Of Space
    In the late 50's and early 60's Joseph Kittinger participated in a number of record breaking jumps from the edge of space, setting records that stand to this day: the highest balloon ascent, highest parachute jump, longest free-fall, and fastest speed by man through the atmosphere. |Read More|

    In 1949, Kittinger joined the U.S. Air Force as an aviation cadet and earned his wings. He quickly got into experimental aviation, flying as a NATO test pilot in Germany until 1953, when he was reassigned to the U.S. In 1955 Kittinger flew at 1017 kph (632 mph) in Colonel John Paul Stapp's rocket-sled experiment, testing the effects of gravitational stress on the human body.

    Space Suit The skill of Kittinger's flying led Stapp to recruit him for Project Man High, which used high-altitude balloons to study cosmic rays and determine if human beings were capable of going into space. On June 2, 1957, Kittinger made his first high-altitude ascent in a balloon - it lasted almost seven hours and took him to an altitude 29,500 meters (96,760 feet).

    After this flight, Kittinger was transferred to Project Excelsior (meaning "ever upward"). For this project, those who went up would take the fastest route down - by jumping out of the balloon in a pressurized suit. Kittinger's first jump, which occurred on November 16, 1959, was a near disaster. After jumping from an altitude of 23 kilometers, Kittinger's parachute malfunctioned, opening early and catching Kittinger around the neck. He lost consciousness and began to spin at 120 rpm, the g-force being exerted at his extremities was over 22 times that of gravity (another record). Luckily, his emergency automatic parachute activated saving his life. Despite this near-death experience, Kittinger still flew a more Project Excelsior missions. A month after the first flight, he successfully jumped from 22,768 meters setting the record for freefall length (16,916m).

    Space Jump On August 16, 1960, Kittinger made his most famous free-fall. In this flight, he made it up to an altitude of 31,333 meters (20 miles), breaking a previous record made by David Simons during Project Man High. He stayed at this altitude for about 12 minutes in severe pain as the glove on his right hand had depressurized causing his hand to swell horribly. If he reported this to the flight surgeon the mission would be scrapped. He considered this for a moment and then stepped from the gondola and into the record books.

    He fell for almost five minutes before reaching a safe altitude to open his main parachutes and float down to the ground. In this time, he went as fast as 988kph (614mph) - not quite breaking the sound barrier, but still achieving the fastest speed by man through the atmosphere.

    But Kittinger's high-flying career was not yet. In 1962, as a part of Project Stargazer, he spent over eighteen hours at an altitude of 25,054 meters (82,200 feet), performing more research into the affects of high-altitude environments on the human body. Though this was to be his last high-altitude balloon flight.

    Kittinger later served three combat tours during the Vietnam War, flying a total of 483 missions, the first two tours as an aircraft commander in A-26 Invaders. On a voluntary third tour in 1971-72, he commanded the F-4 Phantom 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron and then became vice commander of the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. Col. Kittinger was shot down during a MiG engagement on May 11, 1972, just before the end of his tour and spent 11 months as a prisoner of war in the "Hanoi Hilton" prison.

    In 1983 he set a record for flying a balloon from Las Vegas to New York in under 72 hours. A year later became the first man to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in a balloon, setting a record for the longest solo balloon flight at 83 hours and 40 minutes. To this day, Kittinger is still involved with flight as an aviation consultant and sometimes barnstormer.

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    Posted on Friday, August 10 @ 11:44:49 MDT by sonicbom
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