As I slipped open the sunshade of my spacesuit, I could see that the sky above was black. The curved white and blue Earth fell away below the horizon. Sailing like Icarus past 70,000 feet, I was now the 11th highest human on Earth—astronauts on the International Space Station and the Soyuz spacecraft would solidly hold the top 10 that afternoon.

Noticeably absent was any trace of sound or fury. We were flying silently through the upper atmosphere in what amounted to a large black wing, aptly named the U-2 Dragon Lady. Just below and in front of me, the master of this craft, Lt. Colonel Joe “Tucc” Santucci, coaxed our dragon higher and higher, trying to get every last foot of altitude.