The Man Who Fell to Earth
August 16, 1960 - It was on this day that Captain Joseph Kittinger of the United States Air Force jumped out of a helium balloon at 102,800 feet and performed the highest, fastest and longest skydive that had ever been attempted.
The jump was part of Project Excelsior which was researching high-altitude bailouts. During the trip up (which broke the record for highest balloon ascent) there was a malfunction in Kittinger's right glove. The pressurization failed and his hand blew up to twice its normal size.
When the time came to go back down, Kittinger plunged for 4 minutes and 36 seconds before deploying his main parachute. He reached a speed of 614 miles per hour.
Kittinger touched down safely in the New Mexico desert, proving that it was possible to survive a high-altitude bailout.
In recognition of his heroic work on Project Excelsior, Kittinger was awarded the C.B. Harmon Trophy by President Eisenhower.
52 years later, at the age of 84, Kittinger was the capsule communicator on Felix Baumgartner's record-breaking 24-mile freefall from Earth's stratosphere.