The balloon and gondola carrying Maj. Simons photographed just seconds after its launch. As the balloon climbed, the outside air pressure decreased, and the gas within the balloon expanded to fill the envelope. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The U.S. Air Force established PROJECT MANHIGH in December 1955 to obtain scientific data on the behavior of a balloon in an environment above 99 percent of the earth's atmosphere. It also investigated cosmic rays and their effects on humans. The program consisted of three balloons flights to the edge of space using this gondola.
The first flight, MANHIGH I flown by Capt. Joseph Kittinger reached 97,000 feet on June 2, 1957; MANHIGH II flown by Maj. David Simons reached 101,516 feet on August 19-20, 1957; and MANHIGH III flown by Lt. Clifton McClure reached 98,850 feet on October 8, 1958.
During the MANHIGH II flight, Maj. Simons flew the pressurized capsule on display on a 32-hour flight to 101,516 feet, thereby establishing an altitude record for manned balloons. Including the pilot and scientific equipment, the gondola weighed 1,648 pounds. At maximum altitude, the plastic balloon expanded to a diameter of 200 feet with a volume in excess of 3,000,000 cubic feet. PROJECT MANHIGH provided important information about the effects of high-altitude flight on humans in small capsules like those that would be flown in space.