I got a lump in my throat when I heard the vocal interaction between 43-year-old Felix Baumgartner and 84-year-old Joe Kittinger Sunday.
Former Austrian paratrooper Baumgartner jumped from more than 24 miles above Earth, breaking the speed of sound before he released his parachute.
As New York Times reporter John Tierney wrote under the title “24 Miles, 4 Minutes and 834 mph, All in One Jump”: “He stepped off into the void and plummeted for more than four minutes, reaching a maximum speed measured at 833.9 miles per hour, or Mach 1.24.”
While millions watched, Baumgartner broke the altitude and speed records set by Col. Kittinger in 1960, who was in the control room in Roswell, N.M.
Kittinger was an adviser and the voice of mission control.
I don’t know why I was so touched by their voices. I think what brought tears to my eyes (probably allergies or something like that) was Kittinger’s deep confident voice as he walked Baumgartner through a 40-item checklist — every mundane, but crucial move that Baumgartner would make before stepping out of the capsule and plummeting toward the ground.
One would expect a confident commanding voice from a decorated veteran of three combat tours of duty during the Vietnam War, flying a total of 483 missions, including being shot down in 1972 and spending 11 months as a POW in Hanoi, enduring rope torture.
A self-assured, calming voice with experience, Kittinger not only had been assigned to the Aerospace Medical Research Laboratories, where he made a series of three high-altitude jumps from an open gondola for research. His first jump, in 1959, from 76,400 feet, was a near-disaster when he lost consciousness caused by equipment malfunction. He went into a flat-spin with rotational spin but was saved by his automatic parachute.
I immediately sensed a “grandfatherly tone” in Kittinger’s voice in his encouragement and when he said Felix’s name.
“OK, item 26, move seat to rear of the capsule.”
“Item 28, slide the seat forward.”
“OK, Item 29, release seat belt.” He then waits and watches Baumgartner. “Atta boy, that’s good.”
“OK, slide forward into rest position.”
“Your chute’s OK, Felix. I say it again, item 31, your chute integrity is checked. Your parachutes are not deployed.”
“Item 32, verify cut-away knife — handle, strap is attached and knife in proposition. Say ‘roger’ if this is so.”
Baumgartner answers: “Roger.”
You can hear the tension in his voice.
Kittinger affirms that he heard the“roger” then continues:
“Felix, disconnect the oxygen hose. Atta boy!”
“All right, stand up on the exterior step, keep your head down. Release the helmet tie-down strap. Start the cameras, and our guardian angel will take care of you.”
It was Kittinger’s directing but encouraging voice before Baumgartner plummeted that brought tears to my eyes.
Whether our fear is parenting, battling a current disease, struggling through life, we all need the voice of an encourager like Col. Kittinger in our lives. One who’s been there. One who will walk us through the steps. Who is yours?
Janet Hommel Mangas, the third of seven children, grew up on the east side of Greenwood. The Center Grove area resident and her husband are the parents of three daughters. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.