Jerry Caesar (Dabney Coleman) said to Reverend Jonathan Whirley (Christopher Plummer) in the dubbed-for-television rendition of Dragnet, “You’ve got galls as big as church bells, reverend.” I’d like to amend that to “You’ve got galls as big as church bells, captain,” and say it to Jerry Kittinger of the United States Air Force (undoubtedly retired by now).
In 1960, Captain Kittinger leapt from the Excelsior III, a perfectly good balloon that was 102,800 feet in the air (that’s almost 20 miles, and he free-fell for almost 5 minutes at speeds up to almost Mach 1 (the speed of sound), wearing a pressure suit and a parachute. Maybe two parachutes, but what does it matter when you’re at the edge of space?
Me, I get a little queasy in the glass-walled elevators of the Milwaukee Hyatt when I’m on the ninth floor and I punch the L button and then I look out the walls and watch the scenery start moving up at the same time the floor seems to give way. Watch the Earth growing and broadening as I fell from the darkness into the light? There’s no pressure suit invented that could keep up with what I’d evacuate.
So someone pat down the cashew, because this Kittinger guy is cuffing nuts. And I salute him for it!
Unrelated note: So the government thought it was a good idea 40 years ago to see if someone could bail out of a space capsule and make it safely down, so why doesn’t the space shuttle doesn’t carry pressure suit parachutes? I know all you physics geeks are going to point out the differences between the velocities of an orbiter and a balloon, but where there’s a backup plan, there’re survivors, end of story.