A year before cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth, American Joe Kittenger took a lift below a two-hundred-foot helium balloon. The ride took an hour and a half in a tiny open-air basket that took him 102,000 feet above New Mexico.
When he jumped from nineteen miles up, the free-fall lasted four and half minutes. Kittenger's space dive began a long and costly race. After Russian Eugene Andreyev set an official free-fall record, an American Nick Piantanida spent the mid-sixties trying to bring the record back to the United States.