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Project Man High Gondola

Project Man High was a series of three U.S. Air Force balloon flights to the edge of space in 1957-1958. The flights reached the stratosphere at around 100,000 feet to study the effects of high altitudes on humans. This gondola helped researchers gather important aeromedical data, and its flights provided valuable information for later spacecraft design.

Unlike rocket-powered high-altitude research aircraft such as the X-15, balloons could remain aloft for very long periods to allow sustained observation and experimentation. The gondola on display flew all three Man High flights, the first attached to a plastic balloon 172 feet wide and holding two million cubic feet of helium gas. Test pilot Capt. Joseph Kittinger reached about 95,500 feet and stayed about two hours at that altitude in June 1957.

Man High II was the most spectacular flight. Maj. David Simons made the ascent in August 1957 and became the first human to see a sunrise and sunset at the top of the Earth’s atmosphere. He reached 101,516 feet, a new altitude record, in a 32-hour flight launched in Minnesota. This time the balloon held three million cubic feet of gas and was 200 feet wide. With little sleep and enduring uncomfortable heat and cold, Simons made important observations about human performance in the space environment.

In October 1958, the final Man High flight, by Lt. Clifton McLure III, reached about 99,700 feet over New Mexico and provided yet more valuable human performance data for the coming space program. Winzen Research, Inc. built the gondola and polyethylene balloons.

Gondola construction:
Aluminum alloy, pressurized
Weight: 2,166 lbs. (Man High I: balloon 1,012 lbs., gondola 598 lbs., ballast 246 lbs., pilot/food/equipment 240 lbs., experiments 70 lbs.)

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Find Out More
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Yesterday's Air Force: Space Jump-Col. (Ret.) Joseph Kittinger (Air Force TV)(00:03:07)
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