Joseph Kittinger, retired U.S. Air Force colonel and world record holder for skydiving, has died at the age of 94.
In 1960, Kittinger set a world record that stood for more than 50 years after jumping from nearly 20 miles (32 kilometers) above Earth.
He died of lung cancer, announced by ex us On behalf of John Mika and Kittinger’s other friends.
The former Air Force captain and pilot gained worldwide fame after performing three jumps from a pod lifted into the stratosphere by a large helium balloon.
The jumps took 10 months and were part of the Excelsior project to help design ejection systems for military pilots flying high altitude missions.
Kittinger nearly died during the project’s first jump in November 1959. He was wearing a pressure suit and 60 pounds (27 kilograms) of equipment, which malfunctioned after he jumped from a height of 14.5 miles (23 kilometers).
After losing consciousness while spinning at 22 times G, he was rescued when his automatic parachute deployed.
Four weeks later, on his second skydive, 14 miles (22 kilometers) above the ground, there was no problem.
Kittinger set his record in the New Mexico desert in August 1960. His parachute deployed at an altitude of 18,000 feet (5.5 kilometers) as he free-falled 19 miles (31.3 kilometers) above the ground at speeds of more than 600 mph.
In a 2011 interview with Florida Trend magazine, he said: “You can’t imagine speed. You can’t see anything, you can’t see how fast you’re going. You don’t have depth perception.
“If you’re driving down the road in a car and you close your eyes, you don’t know what your speed is. It’s the same if you’re freefalling from space. There are no road signs. You know you’re going really fast, but you feel No. You don’t have a 614 mph wind blowing at you.
“I could only hear myself breathing in the helmet.”
After skydiving, Kittinger served three times during the Vietnam War. He was shot down over northern Vietnam in May 1972, captured and spent 11 months in a POW camp in Hanoi.
His record stood until 2012, when Austrian Felix Baumgartner reached a supersonic speed of 844 mph by leaping 24 miles (38.6 kilometers) over the New Mexico desert. Kittinger served as an advisor on the record jump.
After retiring from the Air Force in 1978, he settled in the Orlando, Florida area and became a local icon. He is survived by his wife, Sherri.