This episode was narrated by Jay Thomas. A weapon that helped spark the legend of America’s most notorious criminal duo. Inside the National Museum of the US Air Force a primitive space suit worn by a forgotten pioneer of the skies paved the way for the exploration of man's final frontier. At San Diego's prestigious Scripps Institution Marine biologists show us a deep sea alien that survives Earth's last uncharted frontier, the Abyss.
This episode was narrated by Jay Thomas.
A weapon that helped spark the legend of America’s most notorious criminal duo.
Inside the National Museum of the US Air Force a primitive space suit worn by a forgotten pioneer of the skies paved the way for the exploration of man's final frontier.
At San Diego's prestigious Scripps Institution Marine biologists show us a deep sea alien that survives Earth's last uncharted frontier, the Abyss.
For even more Mysteries at the Museum, head to discovery+. Go to discoveryplus.com/mystery to start your 7-day free trial today. Terms apply.
Find episode transcripts here:https://mysteries-at-the-museum.simplecast.com/episodes/bonnie-and-clyde-gun-space-suit-deep-sea-alien
SPEAKER 1: A primitive spacesuit worn by a forgotten pioneer of the skies.
JEFFUNDERWOOD: If the entire pressure suit fails, Joe Kittinger, he's dead.
SPEAKER 1: A weapon that helped spark the legend of America's most notorious criminal duo.
JEFF GUINN: Bonnie and Clyde were very well aware that they were becoming famous, and they loved it.
SPEAKER 1: And a jet-age train that was poised to propel America into a future that never came.
When you first saw it, it made your eyes pop out, made you think of Buck Rogers.
SPEAKER 1: Across the United States, in the nation's most revered institutions, our celebrated history is on display. Wondrous
treasures from the past, bizarre relics, but behind every amazing artifact is another tale to be told, and a secret
waiting to be revealed. These are the "Mysteries At The Museum".
Dallas, Texas, at the heart of this sprawling metropolis is the Old Red Museum, and this collection's most
controversial artifact is a gun that curators believe was owned by one of the most notorious crime duos in
American history. It is a 44-caliber Harrington and Richardson rifle with a sawed-off stock.
At first glance, it looks like many weapons that have been modified by criminals, but could this rifle have been
used in an infamous crime spree by the legendary criminal pair known as Bonnie and Clyde? Author and
investigative journalist, Jeff Guinn, has spent years studying Bonnie and Clyde, and he's researched the hidden
stories of weapons believed to be part of the Bonnie and Clyde arsenal.
JEFF GUINN: This is the type of weapon that Clyde like to use. He needed the kind of gun that would intimidate someone
during a holdup, and by having the barrel cut off or having a handle taped, it makes it look like the guy who's
wielding this gun knows what he's doing.
SPEAKER 1: The real story of Bonnie and Clyde, and how this gun came to be in this museum, begins in the slums of West
Dallas where Bonnie and Clyde first met.
JEFF GUINN: They're both poor kids who have absolutely no prospects in life other than crime. Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow,
both were determined not to be poor, not to be miserable, and they would do whatever they had to give their
lives some excitement, some zest.
SPEAKER 1: Beginning in 1932, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow and a rotating band of accomplices known as the Barrow
Gang are robbing stores across Texas and neighboring states. They are virtually unknown outside the region until
1933, when events transformed them into two of America's most wanted criminals. So how did this
In April of that year, police surround a house in Joplin, Missouri, during a routine operation to bust bootleggers,
but local police have no idea who's inside, and soon find themselves in a gunfight with Bonnie and Clyde and the
Barrow Gang. The well-armed crooks escape leaving behind two dead cops. In the aftermath, police search the
house and find a cache of weapons and an extraordinary roll of film.
JEFF GUINN: The film was developed, and it was a sensation. There was one picture of Bonnie Parker leaning up against a car
bumper, very unladylike posture, but the main thing was she had this big stogie dangling from her lips. This was
scandalous in 1933 America. This criminal mob queen who actually would smoke a cigar in an era where nice
ladies only puffed cigarettes in private. That's what did it. That gave the Barrow Gang the extra oomph that
turned them overnight from sort of local yokels into national icons.
SPEAKER 1: The pictures of these brash, young outlaws are splashed across the pages of newspapers everywhere, and the
nation is transfixed by the story of Bonnie and Clyde.
JEFF GUINN: Bonnie and Clyde were very well aware that they were becoming famous, and they loved it.
SPEAKER 1: In a nation suffering through the Great Depression, the exploits of Bonnie and Clyde become a welcome
JEFF GUINN: In the depression, people wanted entertainment. Better than any other gangsters of that era, Bonnie and Clyde
SPEAKER 1: But in 1934, the notoriety will attract the attention of more specialized law enforcement and seal the duo's fate.
JEFF GUINN: It was inevitable that at some point, a real professional lawman was going to be assigned to catch them. When
that happened, Bonnie and Clyde would be doomed. Frank Hamer, perhaps the only lawman in America that's as
famous as Bonnie and Clyde, is assigned to track them down.
SPEAKER 1: May 23rd, 1934, Bienville Parish, Louisiana. Frank Hamer, acting on a tip from informants, gathers a six-man
posse to ambush Bonnie and Clyde.
JEFF GUINN: They were set up so that they would have to drive down a certain road early one morning. A posse was in place.
They knew they were coming.
SPEAKER 1: The engine of Clyde's Ford V-8 alerts the waiting lawmen.
JEFF GUINN: Bonnie and Clyde died the way they had to ensure their legend, in a hail of bullets.
SPEAKER 1: And in death, Bonnie and Clyde become more famous than they ever were in life. Decades after the duo's
demise, the family of a Texas Sheriff named G. Henry Brooks, a lawman who helped track the twosome, donates
this gun to the Old Red Museum. A 44-caliber rifle thought to have been recovered in the aftermath of one of
Bonnie and Clyde's crimes.
Exactly how and when the gun was used by the pair remains a mystery, but it is a fitting symbol to mark the
lives and deaths of this infamous outlaw couple. While a series of photographs changed the fate of two small-
time crooks, a single photo from a distant battlefield would rally an entire nation more than 1,000 miles
Northeast in Quantico, Virginia, is a tattered American flag. The subject of an image that helped America win
World War II, but was this Pulitzer Prize winning photograph faked? ? Find out when "Mysteries At The Museum"
Quantico, Virginia, home of the US Marine Corps and a museum that honors their history. Inside this sunlit atrium
is a collection of battlefield artifacts, highlighting the bravery of US Marines in action, but there is one relic that
is carefully kept out of the sun's damaging rays. Measuring 96 inches by 56 inches, it has 13 stripes and 48
stars, and its right side is badly frayed.
SPEAKER 2: When looking at the flag today the visitor will see that it's tattered and worn. It's stained.
SPEAKER 1: This is the Iwo Jima flag. It became the subject of the nation's most famous war photograph. An awe-inspiring
piece of battlefield journalism that won a Pulitzer, and many believe played a crucial role in changing the course
of World War II. How did this picture alter history, and why did some suspect that it wasn't everything it claimed
February, 1945, the war with Germany is nearly won, but in the Pacific, the Japanese are undefeated. As the
conflict rages on, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt becomes increasingly aware that the US is running out of
money to fund the war effort. The president needs Americans to buy war bonds so he can fund troops fighting in
Little does Roosevelt know that thousands of miles away on a tiny Pacific island, an event is unfolding that will
deliver the money he needs to end the conflict, but the same event will also spark wild rumors about one of the
world's finest war photographers. The place is Iwo Jima. For US Marines, the small island is an essential stepping
stone towards their ultimate target, the Japanese mainland.
SPEAKER 2: The island of Iwo Jima was extremely important to the Allied plans. By knocking out the airstrips that were there
on the island, it was hoped to establish a foothold in the Japanese island chains.
SPEAKER 1: On February 19, 1945, 70,000 Marines and other forces invade Iwo Jima. Although they outnumber the Japanese
more than three to one, the Marines know all too well that the Japanese will fight to the death.
SPEAKER 2: As the US Marines landed on the island, the Japanese forces would have been observing them from high points,
artillery observation posts, hidden bunkers.
SPEAKER 1: The Japanese gunners hidden on the island's highest point, Mount Suribachi, hold their fire allowing the first
waves of Marines to hit the beaches. As the Marines assemble, it is eerily quiet, then all hell breaks loose.
SPEAKER 2: The fighting's relentless. Marines literally are forced to root out Japanese strong points shelter by shelter, bunker
SPEAKER 1: In the war for the Pacific, Iwo Jima is considered one of the bloodiest battles. Over 7,000 US troops and 21,000
Japanese will perish in the fight. In the first few days of the attack, the Marines fight their way up Mount
Suribachi, and on February 23, 1945, a worn-out patrol reaches the summit. The men, using a scavenged water
pipe, prepare to hoist this American flag.
For these battered Marines, it is a moment of triumph, and 33-year-old Associated Press photographer, Joe
Rosenthal, arrives in time to capture the event. Though no one realizes it, he is about to snap a picture that
some say will change the course of the war, and one whose origins will be subjected to decades of scrutiny. As
the five Marines and one Navy corpsman hoist the stars and stripes, Rosenthal snaps this iconic photograph.
SPEAKER 2: When you see the flag image, you are literally seeing the men as they're placing the flag and forcing the pole
into the volcanic soil of Mount Suribachi. The Marines are struggling to lift the flag due to the high velocity of the
winds, the weight of the pole, the size of the flag as it went up.
SPEAKER 1: Within 48 hours, the image appears on front covers of newspapers and magazines back in the US.
SPEAKER 2: The images literally had flown from combat to the front pages of America.
SPEAKER 1: Upon seeing the photograph, President Roosevelt orders the government to place the image on all new
fundraising materials. The photo gives the nation a jolt of patriotism, and Americans are soon buying more bonds
than at any other time during the war. And the photographer, Joe Rosenthal, receives a Pulitzer Prize for the
picture. But amidst the fanfare, doubts are raised about the authenticity of the image itself.
SPEAKER 2: The controversy was that the photo was almost too good to be true.
SPEAKER 1: Journalistic colleagues and rivals wonder if the photo is authentic. Could such a perfect shot really have been
taken during the chaos of battle? The rumor persists that somehow Rosenthal had staged the image. In fact,
Rosenthal actually took two pictures on that day. As well as the famous one of the flag being raised, he took a
second shot of the troops gathered around it.
SPEAKER 2: After the flag had been raised, he actually asked the Marines to pose around it for his gung ho style photo
celebrating the actual raising of the flag.
SPEAKER 1: By his own admission, this second image was posed for the camera. It is this admission that led some people to
mistakenly infer that it was the famous shot of the flag raising that was staged. His reputation on the line,
Rosenthal insists that the flag raising picture is genuine, and although this film footage of the actual moment
supports Rosenthal's claim that the image is the real McCoy, there are still those who seek to cast doubt upon its
But most historians, including the curator of this museum, agree that this photograph is an authentic battlefield
image and was not posed. Today, the picture of the Iwo Jima flag remains not only a symbol of America's victory
in World War II. It has come to define a nation, and at the very center of it all, this weather beaten but intact
American flag preserved here at the Marine Corps Museum.
The Iwo Jima flag is an icon of America's wartime past, but 900 miles Northwest in Green Bay, Wisconsin, this
rare artifact was poised to catapult postwar America into the future. This ultra-modern locomotive was supposed
to change the way Americans travel. Why didn't it work? Find out when "Mysteries At The Museum" continues.
On the shores of Lake Michigan, Green Bay, Wisconsin, here the National Railroad Museum houses some of the
nation's most impressive trains. Over 70 locomotives and rail cars are displayed here, like the majestic steam-
powered Dwight D. Eisenhower, named for the Allied Commander of World War II, and this Pullman Sleeper, once
the epitome of luxury travel, but not all of the trains in this museum lived through the glory days of rail travel.
This train is different.
Crafted out of aluminum and steel, this aerodynamic locomotive with jet-age features was once billed as the
train of the future. For those who saw it unveiled a half century ago, like Bob Lettenberger, now an educator
here, it was like staring at something from science fiction.
I was that young man that looked at it and said, oh my God. Look at this spaceship. Imagine where we can go,
and what we can do.
SPEAKER 1: When it debuts in 1955, the aero-train not only promises high speeds and comfort, it is poised to revolutionize
It was marked as the future of rail transportation. There was a great deal riding on the aero train.
SPEAKER 1: So what happened? What derailed this futuristic locomotive, and why aren't we all riding aero trains today? In
the roaring '20s, the railroads dominate transportation across the country.
We didn't have a highway system back then. The rail cars were very fancy, and there was a lot of competition
between the railroads as far as take our train over somebody else's train.
SPEAKER 1: But by the mid 1950s, with the national highway system on the way, Americans are drawn to another form of
We were falling in love with our cars. We started moving away from the rails, getting into our automobiles, and
the railroad passenger travel began to suffer severely.
SPEAKER 1: But the powerful railroad tycoons aren't about to give up without a fight. To bring passengers back to the rails, a
group of railroad executives make a plan to reinvent the train. Their goal is to make railroad travel faster and
more comfortable than ever before. To carry out this vision, the railroads decide to partner with the very group
that is putting them out of business, the automobile industry.
They took the look of some famous cars from the '50s and moved it into a rail vehicle that, when you first saw it,
it made your eyes pop out, made you think of Buck Rogers. The designers wanted to make this thing reach out to
the American public and go, you've got to ride me.
SPEAKER 1: In 1955, auto engineers built a scale model of a new train with a 1,200-horsepower diesel engine that aims to
reach speeds of 100 miles per hour and beyond.
Speed became an issue. Can we go faster? Can we get across the United States quicker than we ever could
SPEAKER 1: If that promise is met, the 18-hour train trip from New York to Chicago will be cut in half. To create the ultimate
train, the designers take yet another page from the car-makers playbook, a suspension system crafted for a
comfortable ride on the road. It is a technology that has never been used on a train.
The suspension on the aero train was something that was very interesting. The end of the axle, there was a black
donut that was inflated with air, and this was to be the suspension that cushioned the ride.
SPEAKER 1: Despite this and other innovations, the train system is only partially tested on the rails. The aero train's
designers, confident that the design will succeed, begin building two full prototypes. In February, 1956, after a
year of construction, the aero train makes its first full runs on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Bought on its maiden
voyage, as the aero train nears top speed, the innovations that seem so promising on paper meet the hard
realities of the rails.
Most of the rail in our country at the time came in 39-foot sections. So you have a joint every 39 feet. If those
joints aren't lined up just perfectly, beautifully, you're going to get a bump.
SPEAKER 1: The combination of lightweight bus coaches and a suspension system designed for the roads acts like a
trampoline on the tracks.
The promise of the aero train was a smooth, high-speed ride. The reality of the aero train was a rough, noisy ride.
SPEAKER 1: Riding on the Pennsylvania Railroad, the train of the future only lasts for 18 months, and the railroad returns the
aero train to the manufacturer.
The aero trains biggest mistake had to have been in the suspension. Having a ride that was consistently that
rough was really the beginning of the end for the aero train.
SPEAKER 1: And in 1965, the only two aero trains ever made are retired forever.
Had the aero train been different, had it been a success, would our country have been looking at trains
differently, and would our ideas about rail travel be very different today? I think there's a very good chance of it.
SPEAKER 1: While the aero train displayed the National Railroad Museum, one of only two in the world, was derailed, the bold
ambitions of this design continue to inspire and awe.
I look at the aero train today, and you've got to think, mid 1950s, we had yet to be to the moon. The internet was
something that is decades away, and you look at the art and the technology that went into it, and you can't help
but be impressed with it.
SPEAKER 1: But the aero train's legacy is not entirely forgotten. Today's high tech, high-speed trains, like Amtrak's Acela, still
owe a debt to the vision of the future embodied by the aero train. This transportation innovation ground to a halt,
but the discovery of a most bizarre creature leads to a scientific breakthrough. How did a freakish fish, like this
one housed at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, confound scientists for over a century? Find
out when "Mysteries At The Museum" returns.
San Diego, California, this city's stunning coastline is home to the Birch Aquarium run by the prestigious Scripps
Institution of Oceanography. Each day, scores of visitors come to marvel at the dazzling array of marine life, but
these species, inhabitants of shallow, sunlit waters, represent a mere fraction of the fish in the ocean. Behind the
scenes at Scripps, there is an entirely different collection of sea creatures, organisms that cannot survive
anywhere near the ocean's surface.
They hail from a realm nearly a mile down. A world of complete darkness and thousands of pounds of crushing
pressure. They are rare and mysterious specimens that survive in an uncharted frontier known as the abyss, And
this creature may be the strangest of them all. It has a gaping jaw, razor-sharp teeth, and tiny, beady eyes. This
is the deep-sea anglerfish. Marine biologist Noelle Bowlin spends her days studying these strange specimens.
They're nothing like anything I've seen before. They have what looks like a fishing pole at the top, and at the end
of the pole is a specialized apparatus, and it lights up.
SPEAKER 1: Unsuspecting fish are drawn to its glow, not knowing the predator that lurks behind the light. Small prey never
see what eats them.
These fish can ingest whole organisms, whole fish, in one gulp.
SPEAKER 1: But it is not this deep sea creatures eating habits that has perplexed scientists. Until the 1920s, the angler fish
was at the center of a seemingly impenetrable mystery that threatened to rewrite the laws of nature. What was
it that so baffled scientists? For nearly 100 years, the only anglerfish to be caught were females. Was it possible
that female anglerfish had somehow evolved the ability to reproduce without males? The answer could
revolutionize the way scientists understand reproduction.
1924, London, England, a parasite expert, Charles Tate Regan is examining a strange, female anglerfish
specimen in his lab. It is covered in small, fleshy bumps that Tate believes are parasites living on the flesh of the
female fish. As Tate dissects these strange, fleshy bumps, he discovers not a parasite, but something else
Each of the bumps is actually another fish. Then it hits him this isn't a parasite at all. He has just discovered the
very thing that has eluded marine biologists for decades, the male anglerfish. It's a groundbreaking discovery.
This is the first time since the species was discovered almost 100 years previously that a male anglerfish has
been identified. Further examination of other anglerfish specimens soon reveals that some females are covered
by as many as eight tiny males.
It's strange to have such a large female with a special, luring feeding apparatus and such a small male.
SPEAKER 1: But the mystery doesn't end there. 85 years later, marine biologists are still trying to fully understand this
enigmatic, reproductive process.
SPEAKER 4: The sexual pattern of these deep-sea anglerfish is one of the most extraordinary sexual patterns known to
SPEAKER 1: In the darkness of the sea, it seems the females' glow-in-the-dark fishing pole is used to lure more than prey.
The male anglerfish have large eyes to be on the lookout and to be able to detect the light from the lure of the
SPEAKER 1: And once male anglers find a female, they latch on and never let go.
It seems like he survives from nutrients from the female.
SPEAKER 1: And this process allows for a bizarre form of reproduction, though scientists still don't know exactly how it works.
The male anglerfish somehow fuses with the body of a female before fertilizing the eggs inside her.
I don't know of another example in nature where this happens, in the ocean or on land.
The actual mating behavior of angler fishes remains a true mystery.
SPEAKER 1: At the Scripps Institution, scientists continue to study the mysterious angler, and who knows what unlocking the
clues to this bizarre reproductive process may lead to. From a scientific puzzle that lies deep under water to an
epic controversy fought over the ice. Across the country in the Library of Congress, this tattered diary provoked
one of explorations fiercest debates, who was the first person to actually reach the North Pole? Next on
"Mysteries At The Museum".
Washington DC, home to the nation's biggest and best-known museums. Standing guard over the country's most
important documents is the Library of Congress. The library holds a draft of the Declaration of Independence and
a Gutenberg Bible, but among the nearly 145 million items housed within these walls is a worn, paper-bound
diary from 1909. Inside are pages filled with tiny handwriting.
Some believe that these scribbled notations record one of history's most important discoveries, yet others are
convinced that the words and numbers on these pages are fabrications written to support one of the greatest
scientific frauds of all time. How did this worn diary spark an epic battle and provoke one of explorations greatest
debates? It is a tale filled with lies and deceit and is one that may never truly be answered.
And the question that ignited this raging controversy, who was the first person to reach the North Pole? By the
turn of the 20th century, modern man had mapped almost every corner of the globe. Heroic explorers had
planted flags nearly everywhere except for the Poles. While the British and Norwegians have the South Pole in
their sights, Americans are determined to be the first to reach the other extreme, 90 degrees North latitude, the
SPEAKER 3: People have been trying to reach the geographic North Pole for several years, and no one had gotten that close
in the past.
SPEAKER 1: For leading American scientists, scholars, and politicians, the quest to find and map the precise top of the planet
is the Holy Grail of modern exploration. For its time, a feat comparable to landing on the moon, but reaching the
pole is fraught with danger.
SPEAKER 3: Not only is it a tremendous physical and logistical challenge, the natural conditions of the place were very
formidable. You could experience temperatures at polar dawn which would be as low as 70 below zero.
SPEAKER 1: But the lethal conditions aren't the only challenge. In an era before GPS and satellite navigation, polar explorers
had to carefully measure the angle between the Sun and the horizon at specific times of day to calculate their
precise position on the Earth's surface. The accuracy of these calculations would form the basis of one of the
most hotly contested disputes in the history of exploration.
1908, despite the perils, two intrepid explorers race to be the first to reach the pole. Leading the charge is the
43-year-old physician turned explorer, Frederick Cook. His rival is a former colleague, a 52-year-old explorer and
naval engineer named Robert Peary. Both are determined to make history and reap the rewards the discovery
SPEAKER 3: Peary used to say that the person who discovered the North Pole would be in a very special class with men like
Columbus or Napoleon.
SPEAKER 1: First to launch his expedition is Frederick Cook in February of 1908. With little fanfare, he sets off from
Greenland, traveling due North across the sea ice with nine Inuit companions and a team of sled dogs. A full year
goes by without a word from the daring explorer.
SPEAKER 3: Last time anybody had seen him was in February of 1908. For all anybody knew, he was dead.
SPEAKER 1: The world press speculates that Cook has likely frozen to death somewhere on the vast expanse of shifting sea
ice. As supporters lose faith, in February, 1909, Richard Peary launches his own bigger expedition. But six
months after Peary's departure, his rival Frederick Cook makes a dramatic reappearance. On September 4, 1909,
nearly a year and a half after setting out, Cook arrives in Copenhagen, Denmark, and makes an extraordinary
SPEAKER 3: He sent a telegram saying that he had reached the North Pole, that he had discovered land far North on April the
SPEAKER 1: Although he fails to provide any navigational data, Cook is taken on his word and given a hero's welcome, but his
triumph will be short lived. Just three days after Cook's triumphant announcement, a telegram from his rival,
Robert Peary, hits the newspapers proclaiming his own discovery of the pole. It reads--
SPEAKER 3: Stars and stripes nailed to the pole, and that's how it was announced. This message caused a sensation in the
SPEAKER 1: Cook may have made his announcement first, but Peary refuses to settle for second place, and it isn't long
before Peary asserts that Cook's claim is fraudulent. He contends that Cook never made it to the pole, sparking
one of the biggest disputes in the history of exploration. Peary points to his detailed charts and field notes to
support his achievement and calls for Cook to do the same. So Frederick Cook unveils the diary, now resting in
the Library of Congress, that he says contains the evidence that he got to the pole first. The world holds its
SPEAKER 3: There's an entry for the day that Dr. Cook reached the pole and his field notes. It just notes the conditions at the
pole, the wind speed, the temperature, the apparent drift of the ice, what direction it was in.
SPEAKER 1: But Cook's diary entry saying, at pole, is not enough to verify his claim, and Peary's backers, including the
National Geographic Society, help convince the public and the press that Peary's more detailed field notes and
more precise navigational measurements support his claim. Frederick Cook adamantly tries to defend his
accomplishment, but his evidence, the diary, is not enough to convince the world.
SPEAKER 3: By the end of the year 1909, he was considered to be the greatest charlatan who ever tried to hoist a
circumstantial fraud on the scientific world.
SPEAKER 1: It seems that the controversy is settled, but it isn't. Seven decades later, scholars from the National Geographic
Society re-examined Peary's own navigational notes and discover irregularities that cast serious doubt on his
claim on the North Pole.
SPEAKER 3: The evidence shows that neither explorer was close enough to the North Pole to be able to claim that he was the
discoverer of the North Pole. Probably Peary was a lot closer than Frederick cook. Exactly how far they were from
the North Pole when they turned back will always be a matter of dispute.
SPEAKER 1: And even now, the Cook versus Peary debate rages on.
SPEAKER 3: People argue about these two explorers' claims to this day. What has kept it alive over all these years was
uncertainty. Uncertainty is very fascinating. Mystery is very fascinating.
SPEAKER 1: And one of the few remaining links to this controversy is carefully preserved here at the US Library of Congress.
From the dubious claims of intrepid explorers to the undeniable feats of an unsung hero, 500 miles west in
Dayton, Ohio, the National Museum of the United States Air Force displays an artifact that paved the way for the
exploration of man's final frontier, space. Who was this history-making pilot, and what heights did he reach? Up
next on "Mysteries At The Museum".
Dayton, Ohio, the birthplace of aviation pioneers, Orville and Wilbur Wright. It is a fitting home for the National
Museum of the United States Air Force. It holds one of the nation's most impressive collections of military
aircraft, like President Kennedy's Air Force One, and the B-29 bomber known as Bockscar, but curator and
historian, Jeff Underwood, knows that the item that tells the most daring tale isn't a plane. It is a harness made
of metal and nylon that hangs on this strangely-clad mannequin.
The man who wore this bizarre suit, and the harness that cradles it, was the first man to reach the very edges of
space. He came before the superstars of space travel, like John Glenn and Neil Armstrong, but his name and
what he did have largely been forgotten in the midst of time. So who was he, and how did his terrifying mission
of awe-inspiring bravery pave the way for the exploration of space?
1958, the US and Russia are locked in a battle for military and technological supremacy. It is the Cold War, and
the race takes to the skies. Air Force jets are flying upwards of 75,000 feet, nearly twice as high as commercial
airliners. Here, spy planes and jet fighters can easily avoid enemy air and ground defenses, but for the pilots,
these new planes are death traps. There is no way to safely eject at these altitudes. Above 70,000 feet, an
ejecting pilot will enter what is called a flat spin.
As you're falling through the sky, you start to spin. It's a flat spin, and the body goes around and around and
around. If you reach about 120 revolutions per minute, you're going to start passing out. If you do 140
revolutions per minute, you're going to die.
SPEAKER 1: A group of top aeronautical engineers are charged with solving this problem. The project is codenamed Excelsior.
The team develops a parachute system that they hope will eliminate the deadly flat spin and catapult the US into
the lead in the race to produce safe, high-altitude aircraft. The system uses two chutes that are automatically
released by a series of pressure gauges and timers. The first parachute deploys soon after the pilot ejects from
A small one pops out that kind of slows down just enough to keep the pilot from spinning when he's jumped out.
It keeps them nice and steady as they go down, and when he got low enough, the main parachute pops open
and safely carries the pilot to the ground.
SPEAKER 1: In theory, the design is flawless, but will it actually work? To prove the system actually works, someone must
test it. A pilot will have to jump from a Gondola at 100,000 feet wearing the new parachute. This will be the
highest parachute jump in history and the most dangerous.
It's very, very taxing on the human body, and it's a dangerous, dangerous place to be. It's not conducive to
SPEAKER 1: At this altitude, temperatures can dip as low as -110 degrees Fahrenheit. The pioneer who will put his life on the
line is Air Force test pilot, Captain Joseph Kittinger. His gear is vital. A pressurized suit will provide him with
oxygen and protect him from the inhospitable environment encountered at high altitude, and the revolutionary
parachutes are attached to this harness.
Everything must work perfectly, or he will die. August 16, 1960, Kittinger's date with destiny. A balloon filled with
nearly three million cubic feet of helium carries him skywards. But during the ascent, something goes wrong. The
pressure seal on Kittinger's right glove springs a leak, exposing his hand to atmospheric pressure.
His hand starts to swell. It swells up to twice the normal size.
SPEAKER 1: The pain is excruciating, but there is nothing he can do to stop it.
It gets more and more dangerous with every passing moment. If the entire pressure suit fails for Joe Kittinger,
SPEAKER 1: Kittinger's life is on the line, and he faces a moment of truth.
At this point, he has to make a decision. Do I stop and go down, or do I keep on going?
SPEAKER 1: Rather than abort the mission, the test pilot risks life and limb and pushes on. An hour and a half after taking off,
he reaches his maximum altitude of over 102,000 feet. He is nearly 20 miles above the Earth.
He's the first person to ever have gone this high, and he's the first person to ever get this view of the Earth.
SPEAKER 1: Kittinger checks his equipment. If his parachute fails, he faces certain death. Then he does the unthinkable. From
over 100,000 feet above the surface of the planet, he jumps. Falling towards Earth, his body is at the mercy of
gravity. He begins to rotate. If the parachute doesn't open, he will spin out of control and die before he reaches
Earth. Kittinger can only wait.
Then 13 seconds later, his first parachute opens stabilizing his body, but he continues to pick up speed reaching
a whopping 614 miles per hour. After falling more than 80,000 feet, his main parachute opens, and he gently
drifts to the desert floor. Kittinger's jump sets world records for height, longest freefall, and fastest speed.
Records that still stand to this day, and it was this piece of equipment that carried him to safety.
The harness is all that stands between the man plummeting to his death.
SPEAKER 1: But most importantly, Kittinger's jump proves what many had thought was previously impossible. Man could
survive on the edge of space.
Joe Kittinger ended up being the pioneer of space exploration. Humans aren't built to be in space. We're built to
be on the ground, but Joe Kittinger proved that with the proper training, the proper equipment, and the know
how, we can not only survive in space, but we can work in space and do great things in space.
SPEAKER 1: A flag that inspired a nation, and a creature shrouded in mystery. The daring exploits of heroes, and the criminal
misdeeds of outlaws. Amazing objects, each guarding an incredible secret. These are the "Mysteries At The
SPEAKER 2: Defense tactics over the course of the war evolved. Early in the war, the Japanese would try to defend the
beaches themselves and prevent Marines from landing and army soldiers from landing and the invasions. As the
war developed, they realized this made them a sitting target for the advanced firepower of the US military.
Basically, it was an ineffective tactic, and they adapted as all armies do.