Published March 14, 2016
DAYTON, Ohio -- Man High II Gondola in the Space Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
DAYTON, Ohio -- Man High II Gondola in the Missile and Space Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Self-photograph made by Maj. Simons as he approached his record altitude. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Reproduction of Maj Simons’ balloon flight report. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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)
Illustration of the Man High gondola. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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.)
Click here to return to the Space Gallery.
Please note Springfield Street, the road that leads to the museum’s entrance, is undergoing construction through the beginning of September. Expect lane reductions and some delays. Please follow the signs and instructions provided by the road crews.
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is located at:
1100 Spaatz Street
Wright-Patterson AFB OH 45433
(near Dayton, Ohio)