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Paving the way for human spaceflight | Remembering Joseph Kittinger

Today marks the passing of Joseph Kittinger, a pioneer in the field of high-altitude balloon flights. Born in 1928 in Tampa, Florida, Kittinger joined the United States Air Force in 1950 and served as a fighter pilot during the Korean War.

Joseph Kittinger smiling in a polo shirt, im front of a propeller blade

Kittinger and Project Manhigh

After the war, he became a test pilot and was chosen to be part of Project Manhigh, a program that investigated the effects of high altitude flights on humans in preparation for future space exploration.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross medal as part of his work in Project Manhigh. This included a 96,760 foot balloon flight which briefly held the record for the highest altitude flight. Kittinger would go on to outdo his achievements though when he was selected for the follow-up Project Excelsior, which studied human free-fall from high altitudes.

Project Excelsior

Between 1959 and 1960 the United States Air Force devised a plan to test the Beuepre multi-stage parachute system that would later go on to be used in emergency ejection systems for high altitude pilots.

Joseph Kittinger bailing from a high-altitude platfrom at over 100,000 feet on August 16th 1960

On 16th August 1960, Kittinger bailed out of his balloon at 102,800 feet, setting a number of records, including the highest altitude parachute jump and the highest velocity of a human through the atmosphere. He held these records until Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking jump as part of the Red Bull Stratos project in 2012.

Kittinger’s achievements in the field of high-altitude balloon flights have had a lasting impact on the field of aviation and space exploration. His bravery and determination have inspired countless individuals and have helped to push the boundaries of human achievement.

Kittinger was an inspiration to us all

Here at Sent Into Space, we honour the legacy of Kittinger’s remarkable life, not only on the day of his passing, but every day in the work we do. Our work with high altitude balloons would not be possible if not for the trailblazing flights Kittinger embarked on throughout his career.

Joseph Kittinger making a peace sign in overalls

May he rest in peace.


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