1960 Freefall from Outer Space Is Still Awesome in 2011

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In the 51 years since Captain Joseph Kittinger rode the Excelsior III gondola up to 102,800 feet above the Earth’s surface and jumped out, a lot of daredevils have jumped out of a lot of planes, but none have bested his records for highest parachute jump or fastest speed by a human in the Earth’s atmosphere (614mph, about 90% the speed of sound).

The jump was part of an Air Force study on the effects of high altitude on humans and to develop a safe ejection system for jet pilots. During the ascent, the pressure seal in Kittinger’s right glove failed, exposing his hand to frostbite and inflating it to twice its normal size. After jumping, Kittinger free fell for more than four and a half minutes; the entire descent took nearly fourteen minutes.

The video itself is astonishing, combining the beauty of the Earth seen from high above with the incredible (and terrifying) nature of Kittinger’s feat.

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