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'Space Diver' To Leap From 121K Feet

A would-be 'space diver' will attempt a parachute jump from a ballon suspended 121,000 feet over the surface of the Earth later this year.

After floating up for roughly three hours, he will open the door of a 1-tonne pressurised capsule, grab the handrails on either side of the exit, and step off, potentially breaking records for the highest parachute jump, as well as the fastest and longest freefall.

He will face extreme peril. He should reach supersonic speeds 35 seconds after he jumps, and the resulting shock wave "is a big concern", the project's technical director, Art Thompson, said at a press briefing on Friday. "In early aircraft development, they thought it was a wall they couldn't pass without breaking apart. In our case, the vehicle is flesh and blood, and he'll be exposed to some extreme forces."

The jump height is above a threshold at 19,000 metres called the Armstrong line, where the atmospheric pressure is so low that fluids start to boil. "If he opens up his face mask or the suit, all the gases in your body go out of suspension, so you literally turn into a giant fizzy, oozing fluid from your eyes and mouth, like something out of a horror film," Thompson explained. "It's just seconds until death."

Baumgartner will attempt to break a fifty year-old record set by US Air Force Captain Joe Kittinger, who jumped out of a balloon at an altitude of 104,000 feet.

Science fiction fans love space diving - there is a terrific sequence in the new Star Trek movie.


(Space diving in Star Trek - the new movie)

Old school fans of sf also recall this scene from E.E. 'Doc' Smith's classic 1934 novel Triplanetary:

Back toward the trailing edges then, to a small escape-hatch beside which was fastened a dull black ball... He gasped as the air rushed out into near-vacuum... He rolled the ball out onto the hatch, where he opened it: two hinged hemispheres, each heavily padded with molded composition resembling sponge rubber...

...He curled up into one half of the ball; the other half closed over him and locked. The hatch opened. Ball and closely-prisoned man plummeted downward..

And as the ball bulleted downward on a screaming slant, it shrank!
(Read more about ablative heat reentry shield

From New Scientist; thanks to Moira for the tip and a reference.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/22/2010)

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