What Does It Feels Like To Parachute From Space

June 14, 2018 | No Comments » | Topics: Life Experiences

By Joe Kittinger, 74, retired Air Force test pilot, who formerly held the world parachuting record, 102,800 feet, since 1960

I was in an area where no man had ever been before. I was in a gondola piloting a helium balloon nineteen miles above Earth. I was wearing a pressurized suit, carrying 330 pounds of equipment. You’re very confined. It’s 100 degrees below zero, but I had multiple layers of clothing, so I didn’t feel the cold too much.

Overhead it’s absolutely black. There’s no light whatsoever. And the transition from sky to space is so amazing; you just can’t believe the way the shades of blue blend together. It goes from sky blue to a deep, dark blue to black. It’s completely silent; you can’t hear anything. You can really only hear yourself breathing.

I was over the New Mexico desert and could see four hundred miles in every direction, but I wasn’t there to enjoy the aesthetics of it. I was very pleased to be leaving. The quicker I could get back, the better chance I had of living. I went through my checklist. There were about forty-six items, such as turning on the oxygen supply in my kit. Then I got up, stood at the door, hit the final switch, and jumped.

There were two equal dangers: One was that if the pressure suit fails, your blood boils and you suffocate. The other was spinning out of control. In a flat spin, the centrifugal force floods the brain with blood.

Jumping from a balloon is much different from jumping out of an airplane. With an airplane, you’ve already got the windblast and the sensation of falling. When you’re jumping out of a balloon, you’ve got zero velocity. Initially you’re not moving at all, and then you accelerate. There’s no wind resistance, so it’s hard to tell your speed. I maneuvered onto my back, and I saw the balloon shooting into space like a rocket. That’s when I knew I was going very fast.

At about ninety thousand feet, I did 714 miles per hour, but from then on, as I fell, I was constantly slowing down as the atmosphere increased.

The parachute went off after four minutes and thirty-six seconds of free fall. I was extremely happy when it opened, because once the parachute’s open, the rest of the jump is anticlimactic. It took another thirteen minutes or so to get to the ground, but I knew I had survived the cold, I had survived the lack of pressure, and I had survived the dreaded spin. And we had demonstrated a means of escape from space for air crews and astronauts. When I got to the ground, I said, “Gentlemen, I’m glad to be back with you.”