ESPN has been producing some the best documentaries with their 30 for 30 series of films. I have not seen more than ten of them but what I have viewed, the quality of production and storytelling is first class. My favorite piece I have watched is the one called, “Angry Sky.” This is the story of an individual by the name of Nick Piantanida.
The reason I call him an individual is because he is not from the sporting world even though he did play a little college and high school basketball. Like sport heroes, Paintanida possessed an incredible will to succeed far beyond most citizens in society. Nick was a daredevil, an explorer, adventurer, trailblazer, force of nature but also a good family man and all around good guy. It may sound like I am heaping on a lot praise but what he did in his moment of time was incredible.
If you don’t know the story, Nick Piantanida attempted three times to successfully skydive from space. He held the record for the highest accession in a balloon, reaching 123,500 feet. All of these attempts came in the mid 1960’s when such technology and knowhow was barely developed. Piantinida was neither a college graduate, pilot, engineer, astronaut but a truck driver with a passion for sky diving. When he took to sky diving in his thirties he fell in love with it and couldn’t get enough. He heard about an American, Joseph Kippenger who successfully parachuted from a balloon at 102,000 feet. Nick wanted to beat this mark by reaching 118,500, the number which he obsessed over.
The story of Nick Paintinida is not so much about his attempts but about how he was able to pull them off. Through the support of his family and friends and his tireless efforts to sell his idea, he was able to keep the dream moving forward. Piantanida was very charismatic and persuasive guy which he used to sell his plan to politicians, engineers, business partners and his family. Imagine trying to present your idea to those who thought you might be nuts. Piantanida did just that and more for he had to get up in those prototypes with confidence that these would be perform.
Nick Piantanida had bigger stones than anybody I ever heard of. Who honestly would go up in a balloon, 123,500 feet and want to jump out. Not until 2012 when Felix Baumgartner did just that when he successfully jump from a balloon at 127,852 feet. This was done with a well-financed team and almost fifty years after Painanida did it with a shoestring budget. When you think about, Paintanida was the first real astronaut that was not part of any government program and the most unheralded up until now. Salute Nick Paintinada!