Joseph Kittinger, a Record-Setter High in the Skies, Dies at 94

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His left arm caught on the door as he emerged, and the delay in freeing himself caused the premature deployment of the small parachute designed to prevent him from going into a catastrophic spin. The parachute caught Mr. Kittinger around the neck and sent him spinning. He tumbled toward Earth at 120 revolutions per minute, but his main parachute opened at 10,000 feet, as designed, slowing him down and saving his life.

A little more than three weeks later, he was aloft again, climbing to 74,400 feet in Excelsior II before jumping out.

In August 1960, soaring to 102,800 feet in the Excelsior III balloon, Mr. Kittinger eclipsed by almost 1,300 feet the altitude record set by Major David Simons of the Air Force in 1957 in his Man High II balloon.

And then Mr. Kittinger jumped from a gondola once more. “I said, ‘Lord, take care of me now,’” he recalled. “That was the most fervent prayer I ever said in my life.”

The right glove of his pressure suit had failed during his ascent, leaving his hand swollen and in pain, but he was otherwise in fine shape when he touched down.

He then moved on to Project Stargazer, which had been created to observe the stars and planets from high altitude and to study life-support systems during an extended period on the edge of space. Accompanied by William C. White, an astronomer, Mr. Kittinger ascended to 82,200 feet in December 1962 in his last high-altitude balloon flight.

Going into combat in the years after his balloon ascents, Mr. Kittinger flew three tours of duty in Vietnam, became a squadron commander and shot down a North Vietnamese jet. His fighter was downed in May 1972, and he spent 11 months in the prison camp known as the Hanoi Hilton.