Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Falling From Space

Based on the theory of General Relativity, Albert Einstein knew that a man in the emptiness of space wouldn't be able to detect whether or not he was falling ; he called this "a happy idea. (quote lifted from here)

More than a 100,000 foot fall. The only guy to break the speed of sound without a craft, and live. Joseph Kittinger Jr. Such a badass. Here is an interview done with him:

Take us back to New Mexico and August 16, 1960?
Joe Kittinger: We got up at 2 a.m. to start filling the helium balloon.
At sea level, it was 35 to 40 feet wide and 200 feet high; at altitude,
due to the low air pressure, it expanded to twenty-five stories in
width, and still was twenty stories high!At 4 a.m., I began breathing
pure oxygen for two hours.That's how long it takes to remove all the
nitrogen from your blood so you don't get the bends going so high so
fast.Then it was a lengthy dress procedure layering warm clothing
under my pressure suit.They kept me in air-conditioning until it was
time to launch because we were in the desert and I wasn't supposed to
sweat.If I did, my clothes would freeze on the way up.

How was your ascent?

It took an hour and a half to get to altitude.It was cold.At 40,000
feet, the glove on my right hand hadn't inflated.I knew that if I
radioed my doctor, he would abort the flight.If that happened, I knew
I might never get another chance because there were lots of people who
didn't want this test to happen.I took a calculated risk that I might
lose use of my right hand.It quickly swelled up, and I did lose use
for the duration of the flight.But the rest of the pressure suit
worked.When I reached 102,800 feet, maximum altitude, I wasn't quite
over the target.So I drifted for eleven minutes.The winds were out
of the east.

What's it look like from so high up?

You can see about 400 miles in every direction.The most fascinating
thing is that it's just black overhead-the transition from normal blue
to black is very stark.You can't see stars because there's a lot of
glare from the sun, so your pupils are too small.I was struck with the
beauty of it.But I was also struck by how hostile it is: more than 100
degrees below zero, no air.If my protection suit failed, I would be
dead in a few seconds.Blood actually boils above 62,000 feet.I went
through my 46-step checklist, disconnected from the balloon's power
supply, and lost all communication with the ground.

I was totally under power from the kit on my back. When everything was
done, I stood up, turned around to the door, took one final look out and
said a silent prayer: "Lord, take care of me now." Then I just jumped
over the side.

What were you thinking as you took that step?

It's the beginning of a test.I had gone through simulations many
times-more than a 100.I rolled over and looked up, and there was the
balloon just roaring into space.I realized that the balloon wasn't
roaring into space; I was going down at a fantastic rate!At about
90,000 feet, I reached 714 mph.The altimeter on my wrist was unwinding
very rapidly.But there was no sense of speed.Where you determine
speed is visual -- if you see something go flashing by.But nothing
flashes by 20 miles up -- there are no signposts there, and you are way
above any clouds.When the chute opened, the rest of the jump was
anticlimactic because everything had worked perfectly.I landed 12 or
13 minutes later, and there was my crew waiting. We were elated.

I mean seriously how had I never heard of this guy before a random moment of slacking off today? Such an incredible badass. I can't even imagine staring down at the clouds from that far above and deciding:" ok let's fall." And then falling and falling through darkness and cold. All by yourself for four minutes before even opening your parachute. But not knowing you're falling until you see your balloon drifting away above you. And doing this after the fact that "In the first test the stabilizer chute was deployed too soon, catching Kittinger around the neck and causing him to spin at 120 revolutions per minute. This caused Kittinger to lose consciousness" wow.
And how cruel is history? Here's a guy who did this absolutely amazing/breathtaking/heartstopping and dangerous thing that, I'm sure as a soldier and as someone of that generation didn't think of it this way, but as something that you think will secure your legacy. And unless you are a student of aeronautics or physics or of the space program you probably will never hear about him (until his obituary, at least.)
Well I know it's not much but I'll always remember your badassity, Joe Kittinger (or at least remember there was a guy who fell from heaven once...) He truly is a Real American Hero. word.

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