22 July 2007

Captain Joseph W. Kittinger "The Long Lonely Leap" 1961

In an open gondola hung beneath a shimmering cloud of plastic, a man ascends to the awesome height of 102,800 feet. He looks about him at a world that is not the world of man. The atmosphere of his planet lies beneath his feet. The velvet blackness of space is close enough to reach out and touch. He is absolutely alone. Then he jumps . . . ( From the blurb of 'The Long Lonely Leap' 196i)

Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., USAF (with Martin Caidin.) THE LONG, LONELY LEAP. E.P. Dutton & Company, N.Y. 1961.

Current Selling Prices
$350-$600? /£180-£300?

Highly uncommon regularly published book that is much sought after. There are no copies currently for sale online. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, well before liquid-fuel rockets were fully operational, a small group of military men made the first exploratory trips into the upper stratosphere to the edge of outer space in tiny capsules suspended beneath plastic balloons. They are sometimes referred to as 'the pre-astronauts.' Doctors, physicists, meteorologists, engineers, astronomers, and test pilots, they made great personal sacrifices and took great risks for the promise of high adventure and the opportunity to uncover a few secrets of the universe. One of their number, Capt. Joseph Kittinger, rode a balloon up to 103,000 feet in an open gondola and then stepped out and freefell to Earth, becoming the only person to break the sound barrier without a vehicle. Kittinger wrote the book with Martin Caidin, aviation writer, pilot, and author of over two dozen books, the two men flew and spent months together to re-create the amazing events of this story.

A good summary was posted on the Corinth Information Database in 1995:
"Beginning with his boyhood and youth in Florida, where he explored wilderness waterways and was a professional speedboat racer, Captain Kittinger describes his experiences as an Air Force aviation cadet, fighterbomber pilot and test pilot. In 1957 he soared to 96,000 feet in a sealed capsule as test pilot of Project Man High, the high-altitude balloon program studying man's ability to function usefully as part of a man-machine system in a near-space environment. Then, after work with the Escape Section of the Aerospace Medical Laboratory, Captain Kittinger became Chief and volunteer test subject of Project Excelsior, the program aimed at developing a parachute by which a man could survive escape at extreme altitudes. To put the new Beaupre chute, and related equipment developed by the team, to practical test, Captain Kittinger made his three great jumps-Excelsior I, II, and III.

These courageous jumps reached their climax in his famous record leap from the very edge of space itself, almost 20 miles above the earth. This drop included a free fall lasting more than an incredible 4 1/2 minutes, during which Captain Kittinger reached a falling speed of 614 miles per hour before his parachute finally opened at 18,000 feet. Captain Kittinger describes the preparations for the balloon ascent, and the actual ascent itself. He tells of floating for eleven minutes in the alien world of space, 102,800 feet up. Then . . . the descent. Using an actual tape recording of his words as he fell, Kittinger relates his impressions, vividly re-creating this magnificent and terrifying experience."

In later life Joe Kittinger served three combat tours during the Vietnam War, flying a total of 483 missions, On March 1, 1972, he shot down a MIG-21 in air-to-air combat, and was later downed himself on May 11, 1972, just before the end of his tour. He spent 11 months as a prisoner of war in the "Hanoi Hilton". He was not a good prisoner.

VALUE? I hesitate to say 'sky high' but this appears to be an unfindable book. Wikipedia, which posits a reprint in November 2005 (didn't happen) says that 'surviving copies are expensive.' A National Geographic from December 1960 has an article about his jump and that can command $50. His signed photo can go for between $150 and $240. In the hands of a dealer from Ventura one could imagine a four figure price. No copies appear to have passed through ebay. A reprint could still happen- but try $500 for a fab copy of the 1961 first. [ W/Q ***]
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