Kittinger's career in balloons actually continued for years beyond that, but in more obscurity. Project Stargazer was his last Air Force ballooning project, where he and astronomer William White did hours of observations with a 12.5-inch Cassegrain telescope at 87,000 feet. They compared what stars look like in a zone of no atmosphere, with simultaneous ground observations of the same objects. Kittinger said the project was somewhat of a prelude to the Hubble Space Telescope and others like it. The project was cancelled due to Stapp leaving his position.
After three tours of duty in the Vietnam War (including 11 months as a prisoner of war), Kittinger remained with the Air Force until 1978. He then began balloon racing, notably retiring the Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race after winning three consecutive times in the 1980s. He also was the first person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo in a balloon in 1984, between Caribou, Maine, and Cairo Montenotte, Italy. Despite the isolation, Kittinger said there was not much time to think about it.
ANALYSIS: Kittinger's Record-Breaking High-Altitude Jump
"I was extremely busy," he recalled. "I had to fly the balloon. I had to communicate. I had to manage my systems. I had to watch the weather. In 3.5 days flying across the ocean, I only slept 2.5 hours. I was constantly flying the balloon, constantly staying busy, trying to go across the ocean."
Kittinger helped Baumgartner with the 2012 jump at the age of 84, choosing only to help him and the rest of the Red Bull team because they had science objectives; other programs asking for Kittinger's help did not, he said. The program aimed to develop a better pressure suit for working in space. Baumgartner's fall was also recorded by physiological equipment 50 years more advanced than what examined Kittinger.
"Not only did Felix set a new record for altitude and speed, but we also made advancements in accordance with human factors," Kittinger said.