Pinned against the wall by three times the Earth’s gravitational pull. Above me, a boy is beginning to squirm and contort his body so his feet will replace the position of his head. When we slow down his noggin will melt toward the floor. The clown beside him looks like he is running, one knee up, the other behind. His hair plastered against the padded grey wall. End of the school year 1957 on “The Rotor” a quick stroll down and three tickets from the Wild Mouse. Kennywood Park.
Ever heard of Colonel John Stapp? I strove to emulate him while pressed into the rotating wall. Several times I would return to the “Rotor” to experience my high “G” take off on a rocket to the moon. Later, toward evening, I soared, freefall, in the Flash Gordon Silver Rocket Ships over the lake. Among stars and galaxies and nebulae lit across the sky. Reflected in the black water below.
I didn’t break one bone in my body that day. Can’t say what happened to the upside down kid. Some say Stapp broke every bone in his body. No, he was not a sideshow daredevil flying over a parking line of cars. Just a guy who believed we soon would fly beyond the atmosphere strapped to a cylinder filled with volatile igniting chemicals struggling to thrust beyond the universal gravity that grips us to the earth.
What would happen to the human body? Aerospace Medicine Doctor Stapp set out to track down the answer. He became “the fastest man on earth” by buckling himself to a sled on a track in the desert. Fired off a row of rocket engines attached to the rear. He eventually achieved a speed that pressed 42 torturing G’s against his body. BUT. It wasn’t the speed that interested him. It was the stopping. The vehicle carrying him went from 632 mph to a wrenching stop in a cushion of water in 1.4 seconds. It could give you two black eyes. Not to mention a deviated septum. Made Stapp blind for ten days.
He was swung high and fast from a chair into a beam. Was rocket thrust up a track of steel. Was dropped to the ground in a seat rig. First rule, you don’t have human volunteers do what you won’t do yourself. Flew in a jet airplane less a cockpit canopy at 540 mph to enjoy the breeze.In June and August of 1957, Stapp directed a project which sent three high-altitude balloons to the edge of space. Lt David G Simons sealed in an aluminum capsule, reached an altitude of 102,000 feet (19miles) before he bumped back to Earth thirty-two hours later. All endeavors in the name of medical research. All stretching the limits of human endurance. Risking fragile mortality. Stapp’s data helped prepare for Alan Shepard’s quick jaunt into outer space and all of Mercury that followed.
I cry when I get a splinter in my finger. I felt in mortal danger the day an errant particle scratched the cornea of my eye. I’d like to think, after my early flight training, I might whiz around on an aerospace centrifuge, the granddaddy of amusement park rides until I pass out. Anyway, I don’t sleep all that well anymore. When I do nod off, I visit and revisit some of the far reaches of outer space. You should see what is beyond our parochial galactic cluster.