Falling back to earth, alone

In 1960, U.S. Air Force pilot Joe Kittinger flew 30km straight up into the sky using a pressurized, high-altitude balloon. This very nearly made him the first man in space.
He then jumped.

Kittinger free-fell for over twenty kilometers – at which point he was moving so fast he broke the sound barrier.

He had all but left the earth’s atmosphere; the sky around him was pitch black; he could see the outlines of entire continents; and the haiku-like abstraction of his available reference points – earth, balloon, space – made it impossible to tell if he was really falling.
Luckily, there’s a film.

14 thoughts on “Falling back to earth, alone”

  1. Awesomeness.

    By the way, Geoff, I’m curious, what do you do when you’re not building BLDGBLOG? I guess the question really is when do you have time to do BLDGBLOG?

    Thanks. Inquiring minds and all. Feel free to ignore this question.

    Happy Holidays!

  2. Okay, I know I said you could ignore the question, but I was wondering if you are a practicing architect, in arch. school, or whatever. Again, feel free to ignore the question. Gracias.

  3. Thanks–hope I wasn’t prying. I’m a lawyer. I work in a law firm in LA. I’m still wondering what I am going to do when I grow up, or in my next life. And I’m a big fan of the BLDGBLOG.

    I was asking because I am fascinated with the amount of work some people put into their blogs. For some people, it seems blogging–let’s call it writing–becomes their livelihood. That seems fantastic, and a little scary. I wonder if in the near future fewer and fewer people will read books, or buy magazines and will instead do much of their reading at places like BLDGBLOG. Bloggers will make some money by advertising on their own blogs, and perhaps through projects that are spawned by virtue of their blogs. Maybe the superpopular blogs will go the way of TimesSelect.

    But as more people can earn some money through writing, it seems fewer people will be able to work exclusively as writers, with lucrative book deals, permanent positions at magazines, etc. (Maybe that doesn’t follow.) It seems things will be much more catch-as-catch-can for career bloggers, with temporary contracts, revenue based on fluctuating traffic to a site, etc. I guess it is part and parcel of the future/contemporary marketplace: temporary contracts, fleeting relationships, compensation directly tied to use and demand. No more getting set up in some cushy office with a large stipend or grant to just research and write and ponder. (Well, strike that–I imagine some people are still getting tenured positions at universities.) Maybe I’m just describing what it’s always been like to be a freelance writer.

    Anyway, thanks.

  4. Cool post on Joe Kittenger. I had the pleasure of meeting him about 10 years ago. We’d hired him to fly an old biplane for a TV commercial. He was at home in the air. He flung that contraption around as effortlessly as any of us might ‘command’ a riding lawn mower. Breaking the sound barrier without an accompanying aircraft; doesn’t get much cooler than that.

  5. No dizziness. He was sharp, funny, precise with the plane, etc. This was mid-90’s; he was 65 or 70(?)then. The spot was for Best Buy and the creative called for skywriting. He flew, and we added the smoke in post-production. I don’t remember if we hired him straight away, or if we found the plane and he was part of the deal. Filmed at the Anoka County Airport north of Minneapolis.

  6. Hey Rocky,

    This issue came up once before on Slashdot a few years ago. At that time I called Joe Kittinger to find out the truth one way or the other. He confirmed that he did indeed go supersonic during his descent.

    I’d like to add that he was very kind to talk to me as I had interrupted his evening. He was even went so far as to say I had made his day by remembering what he had done which, considering he’s in the history books, was very magnanimous of him. I really wish I could meet him in person.

  7. OK. I just had to comment that immediately after I watched the video — Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom” (“Earth below us drifting, falling) played on Club 80s with DJ Lex (Radio365.com). Weird.

  8. Hey guys,
    If anyone’s interested I’m planning to break Joe Kittinger’s record within the next year or two. In Spring 2008 I’ll be performing a 52,000 feet European Record High Altitude Parachute Jump in the UK. Steve Truglia, Stunt Coordinator and Stuntman http://www.spacejump.co.uk

  9. @Rocky…

    The sound barrier speed you quoted is most likely the speed of sound at sea level.
    The sound barrier decreases in proportion to altitude (based on temperature & air pressure). The higher up you are, the slower you can go to break it.
    He passed the sound barrier on the way down, as, depending on the conditions, speed of sound around 80k feet is between 600-700mph, again depending on the temperature/air pressure conditions that day.
    I've also read that he decelerated below the sound barrier later in his decent due to friction from the increased air density at lower altitude, and was traveling at a relative skydiving speed when he opened his chute.
    Quite an amazing feat and an amazing man. It's a shame he's not regarded as a national hero and included in mandatory school curriculum.

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