For a brief moment, the civil rights movement and the space race came together.

The bone-rattling trip to the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere used to require a steady hand, a powerful jet and the precision of an airman ready to dodge enemy fire.

The dangers were immense. You could black out. Gravitational force could pull blood from your eyes, rendering you sightless. Or you could merely end up in a flat spin and plummet to Earth without ever getting a good view of what lay beyond it.

It was just the sort of challenge that a chiselled 29-year-old aspiring

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