Saturday, June 17, 2006

Taking it easy. Or not.

For reasons I won't get in to, I've had to slow down a lot lately. I don't know if I strike people as particularly cheetah-like in my normal life, but once I am forced to move at a slower pace I start running marathons in my mind, planning ways to more effectively fill every minute with pouncing assaults on life.

Like this guy did.

Meet Joe Kittinger. On August 16th, 1960, he went up to the edges of the eath's atmosphere in a baloon. 102,800 feet.

But that's not even where things get crazy. You've got to watch this video. Trust me.

There are two good videos- this one, which is from the Kircher Society, which Lord Whimsey mentioned on his blog, and a longer, prettier version of the story that adds extra surfing excitement to Joe's jump in order to fill out three minutes of a music video.

It took Joe Kittinger 4 minutes and 36 seconds to reach the ground- the middle of the Arizona desert- where he did not break both his legs because he had another, bigger parachute that opened at 10,000 feet. He fell so fast he went faster than sound. So his scream must have hovered behind him in the thin air of the upper atmosphere. I'm just assuming he screamed, but he might not have. He seems to have been a steel balled kind of guy. He had tried a similar stunt before, in 1959, but that time it hadn't worked out so well, since his parachute got wrapped around his neck and knocked him out two seconds in. But that time he was only 76,000 feet up.

He went on to set lots of other records, volunteered to fight in Vietnam 4 times and eventually got caught. While he was a POW he decided to fly baloons around the world, which he did when he was released, a whole bunch of times. He was the first person to fly the Atlantic in a baloon by himself. During a 1983 baloon flight from Los Vegas to Franklinville New York, he dumped so much ballast that he landed in his undies.

I cannot even imagine how this guy takes it easy in retirement.

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