Dr. John Paul Stapp was chief of the Aeromedical Field Laboratory at Holloman Air Force Base from 1953 until 1958, when he became chief of the Aero Medical Laboratory at Wright Air Development Center in Dayton, Ohio. While at Holloman, he developed and oversaw the Manhigh high-altitude balloon program. When he moved to Ohio, he oversaw the Excelsior program.
We had the Manhigh program, the man-carrying balloon program. And another program that was done by Joseph Kittinger, an altitude bailout program. He not only was going to experiment on exposure to windblast and toleration of the ejection process itself, but to stabilize freefall and prevent dangerous tumbling during descent, and to cover altitudes that might be anticipated for future fighters. So Kittinger went up to 102,800 feet on his third try and bailed out and survived intact on landing. It took an hour and a half to get up there and it was -100 degrees up there. He said he didn't want any more of that. So, that was the end of that program.
The Manhigh program was the first field testing of a closed survival and life support system for use in spaceflight. That's where we anticipated it would be used, and we took all systems that it takes to keep a man alive. Some of them were very crude, and most of them were under manual, not automatic, control. So that when our first basic explorer of threshold in space went up [on its second flight] from Crosby Iron [open pit iron mine in Crosby, Minnesota] and got up to 101,515 feet, Dave Simons did it all in a 32-hour and 10 minute test. We thought it would be warranted for the systems required for survival in a Mercury project, for instance. So, he did all the precursory experimentation for NASA on that one. They were able to take our findings and improve on them, vastly in many cases, and build a Mercury capsule. They took our impact data and built a Mercury couch inside the capsule for takeoff, landing, and other configurations of spaceflight. So, more or less, we did bootleg research on space before space was authorized as an experimental area.