In the 1950s and early '60s, a small band of high-altitude pioneers exposed themselves to the extreme forces of the space age long before NASA's acclaimed Mercury 7 would make headlines. Though largely forgotten today, balloonists were the first to venture into the frozen near-vacuum on the edge of our world, exploring the very limits of human physiology and human ingenuity in this lethal realm.
My American Experience
What are your Cold War memories? Do you remember the Space Race? Share your story with American Experience.
In 1954, Dr. John Paul Stapp--then a brash, celebrity lieutenant-colonel in the United States Air Force--was perusing air crew fatality records when something dawned on him: far more pilots were dying in car crashes on Air Force bases than in airplane crashes. For nearly a decade, Stapp had been conducting exotic and dangerous research into the capacities of human beings to endure extreme dynamic force.