Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Free-Fall From Space

Many of us gone sky-diving or bungee or base jumping. The more daring of you may have even done some extreme free-falling. But none of us have ever done what Joseph Kittinger did on August 16, 1960: free-fall from space.

Joseph Kittinger
Kittinger performed the free-fall as part of a government experiment on how such high altitudes affect humans. To this day he still holds world records from this one jump alone: the highest balloon ascent, highest parachute jump, longest free-fall, and fastest speed by man through the atmosphere.

It all started in 1949, when Kittinger joined the Air Force as an aviation cadet. In 1953, he got the chance to participate in a rocket-sled experiment to test the effects of gravity on the human body. With land-speed legend John Paul Stapp overseeing, Kittinger flew at an astounding 632 mph! After the success of the rocket-sled experiment, he was transferred to something called Project Excelsior, which translates to “ever upward.” The project was to test the effects of extreme high altitude exposure to humans. (The rumor was that it was to see if astronauts could free fall from a space vehicle back to Earth if there was ever a problem. There has been no evidence to support this claim.)
 Kittinger dive seen from the Excelsior 

The first test was a disaster that nearly claimed his life. Jumping from 76,000 feet, Kittinger’s parachute malfunctioned and wrapped around his neck. He passed out and was only saved when his emergency chute launched at 10,000 feet and he was revived upon touching the ground. He made another attempt in December of 1959, falling from 74,700 and free-fell from 55,500 feet. Then, in August of 1960, he went up again in a special balloon and basket (called the Excelsior gondola). He reached an unheard of 102,800 feet, or 19.4696 miles. At this height, the air was a freezing minus 94 Fahrenheit, at which he stayed at for almost 12 minutes, despite a rupture in the right hand of his suit which exposed his hand to frostbite. After jumping, he free-fell for nearly five minutes, reaching a speed of 614 mph, all but breaking the sound barrier. He landed safely on the ground in jump that lasted over 13 minutes.

Here's the incredible video from YouTube:

He went faster than any other human being outside of a vehicle.

Later in life he spent 18 hours at 82,200 feet and flew 483 missions in the Vietnam War, before being shot down and held as a prisoner of war for a year. In 1983, he flew a balloon from Las Vegas to New York in under 72 hours and later still became the first man to fly across the Atlantic in a balloon, setting a solo record flight of 83 hours and 40 minutes.

According to Wikipedia:

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.

Born in 1928, he now lives in Orlando, Florida.

***New Update: Read about Felix Baumgartner's freefall by clicking here.

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