A series of stunning photos from the edge of space have shown Earth’s horizon at 70,000 feet.
Commercial photographer Blair Bunting, 41, made the once-in-a-lifetime journey into space aboard a U-2 Dragon Lady.
The U-2 Dragon Lady is a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft that has been in service with the US Air Force for almost 70 years.
Bunting, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, captured the unforgettable trip in a five-minute video: “We did a photo shoot at the edge of space to show the legacy of the U-2 spy plane.”
“We told the story of the Dragon Lady through a series of images taken on the ground and at over 70,000 feet above the Earth.
“It was an incredible experience that I will never forget.”
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The video allows viewers to witness Bunting’s incredible journey from the moment he puts on his orange spacesuit to the moment the U-2 aircraft reaches insane speeds upon takeoff.
Bunting captures exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from inside the spy plane and the breathtaking view of Earth’s curved horizon from 70,000 feet.
The keen photographer also captures an image of a second U-2 aircraft that accompanied them to the edge of space.
During his trip, Bunting gives a touching greeting to his father: “Hey, Dad, I didn’t tell you, but I took your lens with me. I took it into space. I just want to thank you for your support.”
The incredible video captures Bunting’s excited reaction as the U-2 plane lands on the surface. He can be seen shouting, “Yes!” and opening a bottle of champagne.
Bunting’s incredible journey came after flying with the USAF Thunderbirds, where the pilot took him 50,000 feet, doing barrel rolls and reaching a force of 9.4G.
After that trip, Bunting was approached by a friend and former 425th Fighter Squadron pilot who told him, “50,000 feet is higher than a jet aircraft, but you know there is an aircraft that flies even higher.”
After years of planning and discussions about becoming a father, Bunting received a text message that said, “The high flight has the green light.”
Bunting wrote about his experience in a blog: “I didn’t tell anyone about it because I couldn’t process it mentally.
“I had just received permission to do a photo shoot at the edge of space. I wasn’t overly excited or emotional, just stunned and in disbelief.”
“While I liked the idea of what it would be like to see the curvature of the Earth and the blackness of space, there was a more cautious side of me that was incredibly afraid of it all.”
PREPARING FOR LAUNCH DAY
Preparations for launch day included extensive measurements for a special high-altitude spacesuit, down to the circumference of each knuckle on Bunting’s hands, he told The US Sun.
“The spacesuit was tailored so that during a rapid decompression, the pilot’s arms remained down so he could exit the aircraft,” Bunting explained.
“This made it difficult to photograph as the suit hinders you when you try to raise your arms with the camera.
“In addition, I had to rely on an LCD (liquid crystal display) screen as the fishbowl on my head made it impossible to use the normal viewfinder.
“These were just some of the considerations I had to think about every day.”
Bunting knew he had to be in peak physical and mental shape to get the most out of the flight, so he stopped drinking alcohol and began training with a trainer three times a week.
He said: “I would do this for the next six months so my shoulders would be strong enough to withstand the suit.
“One last thing I adopted was daily meditation, which one of the pilots recommended, to help me mentally focus beyond the noise of the suit.”
Bunting’s life began to revolve around the project.
He tested the equipment and researched which lenses and cameras would be best suited.
And he was asked if he wanted to do the first plane-to-plane photo shoot at the edge of space – which meant Bunting had to take a second piece of camera equipment with him.
“I became more and more confident throughout pre-production behind filming and finally I received a call from the base informing me that my mission was confirmed: the flight would take place on April 14th at 11 a.m.,” he said.
With the flight just days away, Bunting headed to Beale Air Force Base, about eight miles east of Marysville, California, where he underwent a comprehensive physical examination by the flight surgeon.
“I realized within the first hour on base how significant this was,” Bunting told The US Sun.
“The gravity of what was unfolding before me really began to take hold and there was an electric feeling in the air.
“Everyone I met was excited to be part of a civilian high-flight – something that hadn’t happened for several years.”
“After an hour and a half of check-ups, I was cleared to fly high.”
Bunting’s wife, Erin, joined him at the base, and it was time for him to get dressed in “what felt like an oversized La-Z-Boy chair.”
He was then taught how to eat, drink and urinate on the plane.
On the big day, Bunting woke up at 4 a.m. “equal parts excited, nervous and completely terrified,” he said.
After tests and inspections that revealed the air seal in his helmet needed to be removed and replaced three times, it was time to head to the U-2.
After integration, Bunting brought his equipment with him and prepared to leave.
He said: “The takeoff is far less violent than that of a fighter jet and in many ways quite peaceful.”
“I took the time to absorb my surroundings, the world that is getting smaller and smaller beneath us.
“Things soon became surreal as my pilot started calling 10,000 feet, 20,000 feet and 30,000 feet.
“I hadn’t realized how high we were until about 20 minutes into the flight when my pilot told me to look at my 9 o’clock position, where we saw a commercial airliner flying at maximum altitude – we were further above than that it is distance from the earth. The perspective was mesmerizing and I pulled out my camera to take a quick snapshot.
“Not long after, we caught our first glimpse of the second U-2 and began flying patterns to bring it closer to us.”
Bunting continued, “After about 30 minutes of flying in formation with the other U-2s, my pilot and I released him.”
“We continued to climb to an even higher altitude. It started to become difficult for me to process things as I tried to focus on what I was seeing.
“When I imagined going to the edge of space, I imagined feeling comfortable with the thought of being closer to the stars and somehow closer to those who have left us.
“That thought couldn’t be further from the truth.
“When I got there, I realized that everything I have ever loved and will ever love is on the earth shining beneath me.
“Space felt empty and devoid of life…In reality, space is merely the platform from which to enjoy Earth’s natural splendor.
“Shortly after the sky darkened, the sides of the horizon began to bend, as if the pressure of darkness had pushed them downward.
“In that moment I witnessed the curvature of the earth… I allowed myself to take it in as best I could, but as soon as I realized it was becoming too strong, I turned my attention to the project.”
“We circled the plane until the light hit it just right and I pulled the shutter. It only felt like minutes, but in reality we had been up there for several hours.”
After a two-hour flight, the plane returned to Earth – but Bunting said the trip gave him a different perspective.
“Coming home from this trip was unlike any flight I’ve ever taken,” he said.
“I had a new respect for what home was, and even though I had only been away for a short time, I had missed it dearly.
“As is tradition, as soon as I came back to Earth they handed me a bottle of champagne and we started celebrating.
“Everyone wanted to ask questions about the flight and I just wanted to thank them for their support.
“The truth is that it would be weeks before I could begin to understand what I had seen and what I had been a part of.
“The opportunity and trust of the people around me to do this photo shoot will forever humble me and I am humbled by the effort it took to bring these images to life.”
“It was truly the trip of a lifetime.”