In 1956, the US Air Force was still the primary mover behind the American space program. Various tests were conducted that included ejecting from fast moving jets at 520 m.p.h., speeding down water tracks on rocket sleds at 1000 m.p.h. and going up in pressurized bathysphere type gondolas via balloon to reach altitudes of 100,000 feet or more.
And then either jumping out or riding down in the free-falling gondola to see if the parachute system works.
These were brave men by any stretch of the imagination, yet they hardly receive any mention in the annals of spaceflight lore, forgotten by the public and hidden in the back-waters of the bureaucracy in government and NASA.
Below is a link (click the photo) to a movie that was made in 1956, two years before NASA was formed. The protagonist is an Air Force flight surgeon who is also a test pilot who fearlessly experiments on his body to further human spaceflight research. From what I observed, the character is based on real-life people who set records in balloon altitude parachute drops and rocket sled g-force tests.
On The Threshold of Space
Very good film showing how these tests were conducted and cool vintage vehicles, that’s what I liked!