Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Joseph Kittinger - First Man In Space

U.S. Air Force Colonel and Navy Seal, Joseph Kittinger is surely one of the most overlooked figures in the early history of space exploration. Born July 27, 1928, Kittinger was a career military officer and Command Pilot and happens to be the first man ever to go into space.

On August 16, 1960, a full eight months before the first manned space flight, Colonel Kittinger soared in a gondola, suspended from a balloon to an astonishing altitude of 103,000 feet and into history. The image below was taken as he jumped from his gondola and plummeted to earth.

After the historic flight and jump, Kittinger later said "I let my vision run from the barren blackness of the heavens down through the indigo to the gently curving horizon far below. I tried to relax. I glanced up once more and the disc of the sun was sharp and brilliant against the ebony ­backdrop of deep space.

"Even shaded by my helmet’s tinted faceplate, my eyes burnt. Nothing was familiar up there. Nothing seemed real. What I was about to do struck some as gutsy, but to others it was flat-out crazy."

After soaring up for over 1 1/2 hours, Kittinger ended his flight by jumping from the gondola and fell for 4 minutes and 36 seconds before pulling the rip cord on his parachute. He reached a speed of 614 miles per hours before his parachute opened at a height of 18,000 feet.

He set records for:

Highest Balloon Ascent
Highest Parachute Jump
Longest Drogue-Fall (Freefall)
Fastest Human Being Through The Atmosphere

Kittinger explains exactly what it was like hovering 19 miles above our planet and jumping into space.

"Only a handful of human beings have ever experienced what I felt, seeing this magnificent planet set against the utter black backdrop of outer space. I realized that man will never conquer space — he will learn to live with it, but never conquer it.

"I’m sure that every one of the NASA astronauts who saw such sights in the years to come felt the same way. You can’t prepare yourself for it. Looking up, the sky is absolutely black. Void of anything. I missed my family terribly in that moment. I seemed a long way from ­everything I cherished.

"I grabbed the sides of the doors, inched the toes of my boots over the edge and glanced up at the black heavens and said: “Lord, take care of me now.”

"And then I jumped. Thirteen minutes and 45 seconds later, I had stopped moving. I was back on Earth. I was alive. We’d done it. Mission accomplished. It was a terrific feeling."

After that, Captain Kittinger participated in Project Stargazer (Dec 13-14, 1963) Where he and astronomer William C. White soared in an open gondola suspended from a helium balloon. Together and this time, armed with an array of scientific equipment, the two climbed to an altitude of 83,000 feet and spent over 18 hours making astronomical observations.

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