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Kittinger, 1960 - The Man Who Fell From Space

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Uploaded on Mar 10, 2010

"I am at 103,000 feet, looking out over a very beautiful, beautiful world. As you look up, it is a hostile sky. As I sit here and wait, I have realized that man will never conquer space. We will learn to live with it, but we will never conquer it. I can see for over 400 miles. Beneath me I can see the clouds... looking through my mirror, the sky is absolutely black. Devoid of anything. I can see the beautiful blue of the sky and above that it goes into a deep, deep, dark, indescribable blue which no artist could ever capture. It's fantastic." — Joseph Kittinger, Radio communication, August 16, 1960

He staggered to the edge of the gondola — due to the decrease in gravity at that height, he actually weighed three pounds less than he had on the ground — and positioned himself with the toes of his boots protruding slightly beyond the edge of the floor piece, then took a deep breath of pure oxygen and held it. A sign printed at the base of the door, inches below his toes, read "HIGHEST STEP IN THE WORLD". He turned and pushed the button that activated all twelve cameras simultaneously; even inside his helmet he could plainly hear the clicking whir of all the tiny motors. Then he tried to grasp the familiar lanyard with his swollen, ice-cold right hand, exposed as it was to the vacuum of space from the glove malfunction, and realized immediately that there was no way he could grip the lanyard, much less pull it. He let it drop. He would have to trust his weight to pull it and arm the timing knob on the harness as he fell. Kittinger fell forward as he had done on the two previous flights, but it was different this time. This time he was convinced he was going to die. He was out. He was floating. It was like before: no rush of wind, no sensation of falling, no perception of movement at all. He hung suspended in this calm universe. His pulse was 156 beats per minute and he had not taken a breath since leaving the gondola — not even his own respiration intruded on the astonishing emptiness. It was all impossibly beautiful.

(the text above adapted is adapted from "The Pre-Astronauts: Manned Ballooning on the Threshold of Space" by Craig Ryan)

A beautiful video done by "Area51" of one of the most dramatic singular moments of personal courage in the history of our species. It was created before the days of YouTube (it was not done by me, I merely posted a good quality copy of it that I had downloaded in the early 2000s, I don't even know who "Area51" is...) and set to U.N.K.L.E. f/ Moby's track "In A State / God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters" captures the moment better than any words anyone could possibly write (note: near as I know that track is only available on the UK release of their Self Defence box set). Full screen if you can, and crank the volume (similarly, if you can)! Besides the monologue, taken from the movie "Alive" about the 1972 crash of a Fairchild FH-227D in the Andes, I am deeply touched by the film looking across the horizon... where the blue of the Earth's atmophere is very obviously below him. Such stark poetry.

In the audio, the quote is from the movie "Alive", 1993: "Many people come up to me and say that had they been there, they surely would have died. But it makes no sense, because until you're in a situation like that, you have no idea how you'd behave. To be confronted by solitude without decadence or a single material thing to prostitute it... elevates you to a sprititual plane, where I felt the presence of God. Now, there's the God they taught me about at school. And there is the God that's hidden by what surrounds us in this civilization. That's the God I met."

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