On August 16, 1960, United States Air Force Captain Joseph Kittinger conducted a historic parachute jump from space as part of Project Excelsior, which aimed to test emergency escape options for high-altitude aircraft. He ascended 19 miles above the Earth in a helium balloon and jumped, free-falling at speeds over 600 mph for 4 minutes and 36 seconds. Kittinger broke two world records, and this jump had real military significance, providing insights into emergency escape at extreme altitudes.
- Project Excelsior: In 1960, the US Air Force initiated Project Excelsior to explore the use of parachutes as emergency escape options for pilots in high-altitude aircraft, including those like the X-15, which could reach 354,000 feet. Joseph Kittinger was selected to perform daring jumps for this project.
- Historic Jump: Kittinger’s first high-altitude test jump took place in 1959 from 76,400 feet, where he encountered a gear malfunction and a near-fatal spin. Despite this, he completed two more jumps, with his final jump from 102,800 feet setting world records for the highest parachute jump and longest free fall.
- Military Service: After Project Excelsior, Kittinger continued his military career, serving three tours in the Vietnam War. He flew numerous combat missions and was even shot down, spending 11 months as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton camp.
- World Record Legacy: Joseph Kittinger held the world record for the highest parachute jump and longest free fall for over 60 years until other daredevils like Felix Baumgartner and Alan Eustace conducted similar jumps from extreme altitudes.
- Red Bull Stunt: Kittinger supported Felix Baumgartner’s jump from space as a capsule coordinator, communicating with him during the event. This jump gained considerable attention and was sponsored by Red Bull.