Forget Skydiving, Here’s Spacediving

For many skydiving is the ultimate adrenaline rush. Exiting a plane at 14,000 feet and freefalling towards the ground is an exhilarating sensation. But how do you fancy skydiving from a height of 120,000 feet? Well one Austrian man is planning just that.

Felix Baumgartner is an Austrian skydiver and BASE jumper, known for some unique achievements including setting the record for the lowest BASE jump, the highest parachute jump from a building, and becoming the first person to cross the English Channel in free-fall in 2003, using a custom-made fibre wing. Baumgartner plans to jump from the edge of space, 26.7 km in the sky, later this year to become the first man to go faster than the speed of sound unaided by a machine. It will be the longest and fastest free-fall in history if it is successful.

Baumgartner holds the record for the lowest BASE jump ever

Felix needs to wear a pressurised suit for the jump, to maintain air pressure and provide him with an oxygen supply. It’s similar to those worn by NASA astronauts but is even tougher and more mobile. If the integrity of the suit is compromised, Mr Baumgartner’s tissue could swell and the moisture in his face could boil. It will also protect him from temperatures as low as minus 70c.

Lego Skydive

Image: Pasukaru76

If the jump is successful, he will beat a record set over fifty years ago by US Air Force Colonel Joe Kittinger, who fell from a balloon at 31 km or 102,800 feet., and is one of Baumgartner’s advisors on the project. Last month Baumgartner did a preparatory jump in Mexico from a balloon above New Mexico, at a height of just 71,500 feet, or 22 km. He landed safely eight minutes later, with the jump further testing his equipment for the big jump later in the year.

Spacediving was pioneered by NASA, who spent time in the 60s researching the viability of an orbital escape system for astronauts. Space parachutes were designed featuring personal rockets and inflatable cones to protect astronauts upon re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. This is where the idea and technology for spacediving originated. Without the spacesuits used on spaceshuttles falling from these massive heights would simply not be a possibility.

For most of us, 14,000 feet is plenty, as it was for John Bishop when he went skydiving earlier in the month as part of his new TV show, ‘A League of Their Own’. Skydives from this height don’t require a pressurised spacesuit and do not last long enough for jumpers to break the sound barrier. Let’s leave that to Felix, who will do the jump later this year.

Alan Cairns writes on a number of subjects including tandem skydiving and kitesurfing.