19–20 August 1957: At 9:22 a.m., CDT (1422 UTC), 19 August 1957, Major David G. Simons, M.D., United States Air Force, lifted off aboard a helium-filled balloon at an open pit mine near Crosby, New Hampshire. This was the second flight of Project MANHIGH, MANHIGH II. This was a series of experiments to investigate the physiological effects of extreme high altitude flight. The balloon and its 1,648 pound (748 kilogram) gondola were deployed from the bottom of Portland Mine as protection from wind while it inflated.
After 2 hours, 18 minutes, Major Simon had reached 100,000 feet above the surface of the Earth. The peak altitude was a record-setting 101,516 feet (30,942 meters). While at altitude, Dr. Simon performed 25 aeromedical experiments.
32 hours, 10 minutes after lift off, at 5:32 p.m., CDT (2232 UTC), 20 August, the MANHIGH II gondola touched down 10 miles northwest of Frederick, South Dakota. Major Simons was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. David G. Simons, M.D., Ph.D., Hon., was a world leading authority on chronic and myofascial pain. He died in 2010.
2 June 1957: At 6:23 a.m, Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., United States Air Force, lifted off from Fleming Field, South Saint Paul, Minnesota, in the gondola of a helium balloon designed and built by Winzen Research Inc. Captain Kittinger ascended to an altitude of 97,784 feet (29,805 meters).
Project MAN-HIGH I was intended to test various equipment and human physiology in a near-space condition. This was the first of many high-altitude research balloon flights that Kittinger would make.
“… A Winzen crew conducted the launching, as provided by the Man-High contract, in collaboration with members of the Aeromedical Field Laboratory and other units at Holloman. The 475th Air Base Squadron, Minneapolis, provided additional helicopter support. The vehicle was a two-million-cubic-foot plastic balloon, 172.6 feet in diameter, which quickly reached the planned ceiling altitude of 95,000 feet, setting a new record for manned balloons. Test specifications called for a twelve-hour flight. However, because of an oxygen leak (due to an improperly connected valve) and also certain communications difficulties, Colonel Stapp and Mr. Winzen decided that Captain Kittinger should come down after not quite two hours at altitude. The balloon pilot was not happy with the decision, replying by radio, “Come and get me.” But he did come down, and landed successfully at 1257 hours none the worse for his experience.“
— History of Research in Space Biology and Biodynamics, Part II, Chapter 3, NASA History Office, December 1958.
Kittinger landed next to a stream approximately 7 miles (11.3 kilometers) south-southwest of Alma, Minnesota. The total duration of his flight was 6 hours, 36 minutes. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
A fighter pilot, Joe Kittinger flew three combat tours during the Vietnam War for a total of 483 combat missions. On 11 May 1972, while flying a McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II, 66-0230, in pursuit of a MiG-21 Fishbed fighter, Kittinger was shot down by an Atoll air-to-air missile fired by another MiG-21. He and his Weapons System Officer, 1st Lieutenant William J. Reich, were captured and spent 11 months at the Hanoi Hilton.
Joe Kittenger holds six Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world records for distance set with balloons. Three are still current.¹ In 2012, he was technical advisor for Felix Baumgartner as he set a new world record for the highest parachute jump from the Red Bull Stratos balloon and gondola.
8 October 1958: At Holloman Air Force Base, southeast of Alamogordo, New Mexico, the Project MANHIGH III balloon was launched at 6:51 a.m., Mountain Standard Time (13:51 UTC). The helium balloon lifted a 1,648 pound (748 kilogram) pressurized gondola. Inside was Lieutenant Clifton Moody McClure III, U.S. Air Force.
Over the next three hours, the balloon ascended to an altitude of 99,700 feet (30,389 meters)¹ over the Tularosa Basin.
From this altitude, “Demi” McClure radioed to Dr. David G. Simon, who had flown a previous MANHIGH mission, “I see the most fantastic thing, the sky that you described. It’s blacker than black, but it’s saturated with blue like you said. . . I’m looking at it, but it seems more like I’m feeling it. . . I have the feeling that I should be able to see stars in this darkness, but I can’t find them, either—I have the feeling that this black is so black it has put the stars out.”
The purpose of the MANHIGH flights was to conduct scientific research through the direct observations of the pilot while in contact with ground-based scientists and engineers, and to gather physiological data about the stresses imposed on a human body during extreme high altitude flight.
Lieutenant McClure was born at Anderson, South Carolina, 8 November 1932, the son of Clfton M. McClure, Jr., and Frances Allen McClure. He earned a bachelor’s degree in materials engineering and a master’s degree in ceramic engineering from Clemson University. He had been an instructor pilot, flying the Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star jet trainer, at air bases in Texas, but was then assigned to the Solar Furnace Project at Holloman AFB.
Prior high-altitude balloon flights had shown the need for extreme physiological fitness, and McClure was selected through a series of medical and physical evaluations similar to those that would later be used to select astronaut candidates for Project Mercury. He was considered to be physiologically and psychologically the best candidate for MANHIGH flights.
The MANHIGH III balloon was manufactured by Winzen Research, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota. It had a capacity of approximately 3,000,000 cubic feet (84,950 cubic meters) and was filled with helium.
The gondola was built of three cast aluminum cylindrical sections with hemispherical caps at each end. It was 9 feet (2.743 meters) high with a diameter of 3 feet (0.914 meters). Inside were cooling and pressurization equipment ,and equipment for various scientific experiments.
Lieutenant McClure wore a modified David Clark Company MC-3A capstan-type partial-pressure suit with an International Latex Corporation MA-2 helmet for protection. He breathed a mixture of 60% oxygen, 20% nitrogen and 20% helium.
During the flight, Lieutenant McClure became dehydrated. Later, temperatures inside the gondola rose to 118 °F. (47.8 °C.). The cooling system was unable to dissipate heat from McClure’s body, and his body core temperature rose to 108.6 °F. (42.6 °C.). After twelve hours, it was decidede to end the flight. MANHIGH III touched down a few miles from its departure point at 2342 UTC, 9 October 1958.
After his participation in Project MANHIGH, Clifton McClure applied to become an astronaut in Project Mercury. He was turned down because his height—6 feet, 1 inch (1.854 meters)— exceeded the limits imposed by the small Mercury space capsule. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the MANHIGH III flight. He later flew Lockheed F-104 Starfighters with the South Carolina Air National Guard.
Cliftom Moody McClure III died at Huntsville, Alabama, 14 January 2000, at the age of 67 years..
¹Sources vary. A NASA publication, Dressing For Altitude, cites McClure’s maximum altitude as 98,097 feet (29,900 meters) (Chapter 4, Page 162). The Albuquerque Tribune reported McClure’s altitude as 99,600 feet (30,358 meters), (Vol. 36, No. 163, Saturday, 11 October 1958, Page 7 at Column 6. The National Museum of the United States Air Force states 99,700 feet (30,389 meters). 99,700 feet is also cited in Office of Naval Research Report ACR-64, “Animals and Man in Space,” 1962.