Encyclopedia Astronautica
Man-high


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Manhigh gondola
Manhigh balloon gondola
Credit: USAF
American manned balloon. Study 1955. Project Manhigh was established in December 1955 to obtain scientific data on the behavior of a balloon in an environment above 99% of the earth's atmosphere and to investigate cosmic rays and their effects on man.

Three balloon flights to the edge of space were made during the program: Manhigh 1 to 29.6 km, by Captain Joseph Kittinger on 2 June 1957; Manhigh II to 30.95 km, by Major David Simons on 19 and 20 August, 1957; and Manhigh III to 29.9 km by Lieutenant Clifton McClure on 8 October 1958.

Including the pilot and scientific equipment carried aboard, the total weight of the Manhigh II gondola was 747 kg. At maximum altitude, the balloon expanded to a diameter of 60 m with a volume in excess of 85,000 cubic m.

50th anniversary of a forgotten space mission: Project Manhigh
by John C. Keel, M.D.

Years before the cosmonauts even before NASA - there were men who touched the edge of space. These brave explorers were the pre-astronauts of Project Manhigh. October 8, 2008 marks the 50th anniversary of their last mission, Manhigh III. The solo pilot of Manhigh III was Clifton McClure, from Anderson, SC.

By the 1950's, high-altitude balloons were capable of reaching higher than 99% of the earth's atmosphere. As a first step in sending man into space, the United States Air Force executed a series of manned high-altitude balloon missions from 1957-1958, known as Project Manhigh. These missions tested equipment such as space capsules, space suits, and telemetry and communication systems. Most of all, Manhigh first tested the ability of human beings to function in the harsh extremes of high altitude, where the blue sky ends, and space begins.

Manhigh I and II were flown in June and August of 1957 by Joseph Kittinger and David Simons, respectively. For the third and final mission, new pilot requirements were expanded and refined, including psychological and stress testing, and physical challenges such as the centrifuge. Having been the first to pass this rigorous gauntlet that would later be used to select the Mercury Seven, Clifton McClure was launched aboard Manhigh III on October 8, 1958.

In a sealed capsule filled with oxygen, nitrogen and helium, McClure soared to an altitude of 99,700 feet, above the Tularosa Basin of New Mexico. He persevered through equipment failures that could have proven disastrous. His parachute came loose, and somehow he repacked it by hand while in the confined space capsule. Most significantly, the capsule's cooling system failed, and temperature climbed, as it was beyond the radiation shielding of the atmosphere. Incredibly, McClure's body temperature reached as high as 108.5F, yet he remained conscious and recovered completely.

A graduate of Anderson High and Clemson, McClure also later became a member of the South Carolina Air National Guard. He flew the F-104 with the 157th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (now the 157th Fighter Squadron at McEntire JNGS, Eastover, SC). He was deployed to Spain during response to the 1962 crisis in Berlin. McClure passed away in January 2000. He was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 2001.

Balloon missions continued briefly after Manhigh, including Excelsior and Stargazer, but all were soon overshadowed by NASA, and now they are all but forgotten. A few books have documented their feats, including The Pre-Astronauts: Manned Ballooning on the Edge of Space, by Craig Ryan, and Touching Space, by Gregory P. Kennedy. The Discovery Channel has aired a documentary on the pre-astronauts. A much-anticipated movie is also in progress to recount their amazing adventures.

Let us remember the remarkable, awe-inspiring achievements of McClure and the pre-astronauts. It was the pre-astronauts of Project Manhigh who were the first to see the curve of the earth against the black void. As the space programs of the world prepare for the next stage, let us always remember those who have come before, for we pursue the most ancient dreams of mankind.

Gross mass: 747 kg (1,646 lb).

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Man-high Chronology


1955 December - .
  • Project Manhigh established. - . Nation: USA. Spacecraft: Man-high. Project Manhigh was established in December 1955 to obtain scientific data on the behavior of a balloon in an environment above 99% of the earth's atmosphere and to investigate cosmic rays and their effects on man. Three balloon flights to the edge of space were made during the program.

1957 June 2 - .
  • Manhigh I - . Nation: USA. Spacecraft: Man-high. Summary: Manhigh I balloon reached 97,000 feet (29,600 m) with Captain Joseph Kittinger aboard..

1957 August 19 - .
  • Manhigh II - . Nation: USA. Spacecraft: Man-high. Manhigh II reached a record altitude of 101,516 feet (30,950 m) with Major David Simons aboard on 19 and 20 August. Including the pilot and scientific equipment, the total weight of the Manhigh II gondola was 747 kg. At maximum altitude, the ballon expanded to a diameter of 60 m with a volume in excess of 85,000 cubic m.

1958 October 8 - .
  • Manhigh III - . Nation: USA. Spacecraft: Man-high. Summary: Manhigh III reached 98,000 feet (29,900 m) with Lieutenant Clifton McClure aboard..

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