Leaping out of a balloon gondola almost 20 miles above the New Mexico desert on a summer’s day in 1960

Leaping out of a balloon gondola almost 20 miles above the New Mexico desert on a summer’s day in 1960

Joseph Kittinger seemed like something out of science fiction.

Joseph Kittinger free fell for 13 seconds, protected against air temperatures as low as minus-94 degrees by specialized clothing and a pressure suit.

And then his small, stabilizer parachute opened as planned to prevent a spin that could have killed him.

Joseph Kittinger free fell for another 4 minutes and 36 seconds,

Descending to 17,500 feet before his regular parachute opened.

Mr. Kittinger, who died on Friday in Florida at age 94, never rivaled the original Mercury 7 astronauts or the men who walked on the moon in terms of celebrity,

Joseph Kittinger was an aviation trailblazer in his own right, paving the way for America’s first manned spaceflights.

Taking part in experimental Air Force programs in the skies over New Mexico in the late 1950s

Early ’60s to simulate conditions that future astronauts might face, Mr. Kittinger set records for the highest balloon flight, at 102,800 feet;

The longest free fall, some 16 miles; and the fastest speed reached by a human under his own power, descending at up to 614 miles an hour.