Oh,calm the hell down. I’ll admit it, I’m trolling a little bit here. Obviously, what Felix Baumgartner did was undeniably cool, and made for great televsion. It was something that had never been seen before ever not been seen for a long time.

However, in the midst of everyone handing out plaudits to Baumgartner for his record-setting skydive, I would like to take this opportunity to remind readers about the man who paved the way decades earlier, Air Force Colonel Joe Kittinger. So I ask you to bear with me as I engage in a bit of jingoism and explain why Kittinger was even nuttier than ‘ol Felix.

It was an exciting time to be a pilot in the 1950s. Chuck Yeager and the boys were doing crazy things out at Muroc (now Edwards) Air Force base. Jet planes were flying faster, farther, and higher than ever. With these new capabilities, the Air Force was understandably growing concerned with the ability of their pilots and aircrew to safely bail out at high altitudes.

Impressed with his flying skills, shown chasing jet cars through the salt flats at low levels without turning his plane into a smoking crater, the Air Force invited then-Captain Joe Kittinger to be part of the project to test high altitude parachute capabilities  the project was to be named Excelsior, Latin for “ever upward.”

Air Force Colonel Joe Kittinger

Knowing that he would be jumping higher than any B-52 had ever flown apparently didn’t trouble Kittinger or his humongous balls. On the first try, the chute malfunctioned  wrapped around his neck, and choked him out. Thankfully, his automatic opening device operated as intended and saved his life.

Back then, pesky near-death experiences didn’t really have much of a deterrent on men like Kittinger. So, a couple of weeks later, he went up in the balloon again. This time, the pressurization in his suit failed, and his hand swelled to twice its normal size, rendering it unusable. Not wanting the mission to be aborted, and while in extreme pain, Kittinger said nothing to ground control. Then, looking out from his perch at 102,800 feet, he said “Fuck it” and jumped.