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Manhigh, Excelsior and Red Bull — it is really all about Joseph Kittinger

20 March 2012

Manhigh, Excelsior and Red Bull — it is really all about Joseph Kittinger

Soon the Red Bull sponsored Stratos project will likely break Joseph Kittinger’s long standing high altitude parachute leap he set in August 1960 from 102,800 feet (31,300m). The jump was made as on objective of Project Excelsior. The U.S. Air Force required data on parachute escape systems from high altitude to improve crew escape probabilities and Kittinger stepped up to pioneer leaping from near space. Over five decades later the Stratos project’s aim is to better that record with a parachute leap from 120,00 feet (36,363m).

What about Kittinger and his aviation accomplishments? There is more to his record as it turns out. He participated in an experiment regarding the effect of cosmic radiation on humans in Project Manhigh (borne aloft in an extremely high altitude balloon) as well as collecting data above 95% of the Earth’s atmosphere for astronomical observations in Project Stargazer — again using a high altitude balloon.

Kittinger is retired from the U.S. Air Force as well as from an extensive flying career where he flew a number of types including: F-86, A-26 and F-4 aircraft. It was in an F-4 that he shot down a MiG-21 and was in turn shot down by a MiG-21, during the Vietnam War, resulting in an 11 month stay in the Hanoi Hilton. When we celebrate the success of the Stratos Project we should also recall the man who first set the pioneering high altitude parachuting record as well as his service in several combat tours — including 11 months as a POW.

A life sized mannequin of Joseph Kittinger and a replica of the Project Excelsior gondola in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force — photo by Joseph May

The sign reads "This is the highest step in the World" — photo by Joseph May

Kittinger leaps to his high altitude parachute record from the gondola of Project Excelsior — U.S. Air Force photo

The H.G. Wells-like Project Manhigh gondola, also in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force — U.S. Air Force photo

Illustration of Project Manhigh's gondola interior — U.S. Air Force photo

Gondola of the two man Project Stargazer gondola, also located in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force — U.S. Air Force photo

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