More than 8 Million people tuned into YouTube this week to watch daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s spectacular fall to Earth from an estimated height of around 39km (24 Miles). It was truly a wondrous feat and extremely exciting to watch online as preparations and last minute checks were made while he ascended to the target altitude. Felix will go down in the record books as holding the highest skydive ever completed, and will be remembered for a long time by those that witnessed it. Achievements like this has always driven man to the edges of courage and endurance as Felix is a member in a long list of men to face adversity head on and gain worldwide respect. Here is a run down of SOME of the gutsiest men to have dared take their feet from the ground.
As Felix was preparing for his jump there is no doubt that he took both inspiration and advice from a similar jump that took place 50 years ago. In August 1960, Joe Kittenger, a command pilot with the US Air Force, jumped from a height of 31km, (19 Miles) just short of Felix’s daring leap. During his descent a malfunction in Joe’s right hand glove caused his hand to swell to more than twice its size but the pioneer carried out the exercise unheeded by the pain. Kittenger was actually directly involved with Felix’s ‘Red Bull Stratos’ project in which he was the man seen guiding and talking with him before and during his flight. Having somebody with you that has experienced similar sensations much have been invaluable to Felix. What about those true pioneers risking their lives so that we humans can understand our surroundings?
One man that pushed himself to such extremes was Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov. During the late 1980s and early 1990’s Valeri spent a combined time in space of 22 months. Polyakov, a Dr of medicine spent his time orbiting the planet testing drugs and equipment for use on Earth and for future use in space missions. Valeri’s biggest and most commendable achievement was when he returned from the space station Mir after 437 days above Earth. No human before or since has collected such an astonishing record of time in space. Valeri pushed his mind as well as his body, not necessarily for the purpose of endurance, but that information will prove invaluable in missions to come.
The time in space that Valeri experience would have felt somewhat of a luxury to previous pioneers in space exploration. Everybody is familiar with the members of the Apollo 11 crew, the first men on the moon, and no one more famous so than the late, great Neil Armstrong. Neil as well as Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were the first humans to set foot on another world when they touched down on the lunar surface in 1969. Countless years of practice and preparation still could not have compared to the experiences those men felt as they strolled the dusty Moon. Neil, Buzz and Michael, as well as the technicians at NASA, set a marker down for human exploration that will take some beating. Neil Armstrong’s death in August of this year upset the world as human’s lost a courageous and outstanding member of their race. The bravery that these men shared is rare but thankfully will continue on like it has, regardless of the dangers.
These men all share something in common in which they have all ignored the severe dangers involved with exiting our protective shield, we call the atmosphere, and seen the Earth like most of us will never witness. No catalog like this would be complete, however, without one of the most inspirational and commendable humans ever to grace this planet. Yuri Gagarin.
Yuri Gagarin was a Russian cosmonaut born in a town called Gzhatsk in 1934. After some years in the Soviet Air Force Gagarin was selected along with other candidates into the Soviet space program. He excelled and was eventually chosen to be Russia’s first cosmonaut. After months of training Yuri Gagarin finally blasted his way into human history when on the 12th April 1961 he became the first human in space as well as the first to orbit the Earth. Nothing could have prepared him for what was going to happen. There was no space flight manual or Soviet space program protocol to go by, Yuri was on his own. After just under an hour and a half Gagarin returned to Earth’s surface to the applause and admiration of his colleagues not to mention that of future generations to come. The audacity that this man showed in the face of a completely unknown experience speaks volumes for that of what humans can achieve. Bravery on an unprecedented level that should never be forgotten. One way Russia made sure that his incredible feat was cemented in history was by changing the name of his boyhood town from Gzhatsk, to ‘Gagarin’ in 1968 after his tragic death.
Similarities in each of these men can be difficult to find as each was under different eras in space flight and exploration because one man’s experiences outweighs another. However, all should share the purest of admiration and respect of their fellow man as if it was not for these people, super humans if you will, our species will be forever pinned to the surface of this Earth.
- Gagarin Statue Lands At NASA’s Birthplace (rferl.org)
- Slideshow: 50th Anniversary of the First American in Space (history.com)
- My Role Models (thegilmoreproject.wordpress.com)