RIP Col. Joe Kittinger, the first man to fly a balloon 20 miles up to the edge of space, jump out of it, and live to tell the tale
· Dec 10, 2022 ·
U.S. Air Force

Tip your hats to the Colonel, popularly designated as "the first man to fully witness the curvature of the Earth:"

He free fell for 13 seconds, protected against air temperatures as low as minus-94 degrees by specialized clothing and a pressure suit. And then his small, stabilizer parachute opened as planned to prevent a spin that could have killed him. He free fell for another 4 minutes and 36 seconds, descending to 17,500 feet before his regular parachute opened.

Mr. [Col. Joseph] Kittinger, who died on Friday in Florida at age 94, never rivaled the original Mercury 7 astronauts or the men who walked on the moon in terms of celebrity, but he was an aviation trailblazer in his own right, paving the way for America's first manned spaceflights.

Here, the U.S. Air Force has helpfully prepared a retrospective of Kittinger's legendary accomplishment in helping the U.S. in its goal toward getting men into space and back to Earth:

How bold was this guy? Listen to him tell it:

"I suddenly discovered that my pressure suit glove in my right hand was not working. I knew that if I told the people on the ground that it wasn't working, that they'd make me abort the flight. So I opted not to tell...I could not use my right hand during the flight."

The man's hand "swolled up to about twice its normal size," and yet he just went ahead and jumped anyway:

Beyond that, he served with honor in Vietnam:

Kittinger and [1st Lieutenant William] Reich spent 11 months as prisoners of war in the Hỏa Lò Prison, the so-called "Hanoi Hilton". Kittinger was put through rope torture soon after his arrival at the POW compound and this made a lasting impression on him. Kittinger was the senior ranking officer (SRO) among the newer prisoners of war, i.e., those captured after 1969. In Kittinger's autobiography "Come Up and Get Me" (by Kittinger and Craig Ryan), Kittinger emphasized being very serious about maintaining the military structure he considered essential to survival. Kittinger and Reich were returned to American hands during Operation Homecoming on March 28, 1973, and they continued their Air Force careers, with Kittinger having been promoted to full colonel while in captivity.

Thank you for your service, Colonel, and rest in peace.


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