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Space News

Supersonic Skydiving 58

Almost six years ago, we talked about the story of Michel Fournier, a retired French army officer who planned to skydive from a height of 25 miles. That plan and a subsequent attempt one year later both failed due to "technical and weather-related problems." Now, at the age of 64, Fournier is set to try again. If everything goes right, his speed will approach 1,000 miles per hour during the early stages of his 15-minute descent. Quoting the NYTimes: "Fournier faces plenty of perils. Above 40,000 feet, there is not enough oxygen to breathe in the frigid air. He could experience a fatal embolism. And 12 miles up, should his protective systems fail, his blood could begin to boil because of the air pressure, said Henri Marotte, a professor of physiology at the University of Paris and a member of Fournier's team. 'If the human body were exposed at very high altitude, the loss of consciousness is very fast, in five seconds,' Marotte said. 'Brain damage, in three or four minutes.'"
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Supersonic Skydiving

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  • Yet another thing... (Score:2, Informative)

    by shadwwulf ( 145057 )
    ...that was already done on Star Trek [memory-alpha.org].

    I for one think that it is an interesting idea if they can reliably pull it off.
    • by DreadPiratePizz ( 803402 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @01:17PM (#23536717)
      I for one think that it is an interesting idea if they can reliably pull it off.

      Something like this will never be reliably pulled off. The challenges in reaching that altitude are immense, the skydive itself very dangerous, and the costs prohibitive. Many people have been trying to break Joseph Kittinger's 102,800 jump since he did it, and nobody has succeeded. That was in 1960. Everybody who's tried has either died, or postponed their plans due to danger.
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        If everyone thought that way, it never will be. I'm really glad everyone is not that negative.
        • Even if it were somehow feasible economically to get that high someday, that doesn't make the act any less dangerous. There's inherent dangers in the environment, and traveling at that speed. The day there's a restaurant on top of everest is the day I'll admit this will be widely done.
          • I'm sure back in the 1400's somebody probably said the same thing about a restaurant on the edge of the world.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Looks like fun ! You first...
  • He's probably the aloof adventurer type. When asked by the press (repeatedly) he'll probably respond with some 3 word sentence.

    Press: How was the trip? What did you experience?

    Fournier: It was pretty exciting.

    Press: What went through your mind as you were falling?

    Fournier: I remembered that I had forgot to shut the garage door at home at one point.

    blah blah blah.....

    • by PC and Sony Fanboy ( 1248258 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @01:05PM (#23536643) Journal
      Like that brian regan routine about evil kinevil...

      Reporter: So, what did you think as you took that fall and broke every bone in your body?

      Evil: ... Hmm .. y'know, I was thinkin' 'Did I leave the bathroom light on?' ... no wait, it was 'Did I turn the iron off... ' No wait! I remember now, I was thinking more like 'AHHHHHHHHH THE PAIN! OH MY ... OWWWWW AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH OH NO NOT MY .... AHHHHHHH!'
  • by rueger ( 210566 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @01:33PM (#23536801) Homepage
    Now we know why NASA and the US aren't bothering with a replacement for the Shuttle - they'll just have returning astronauts skydive back to earth!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dpilot ( 134227 )
      In "Mission to the Stars", written by A.E. van Vogt between 1943 and 1952, Peter Maltby did pretty much just this. I believe I've read other depictions of "personal reentry" written later with more realistic and practical detail, as well.
    • by FuturePastNow ( 836765 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @03:29PM (#23537625)
      If the only part of the spacecraft you plan on re-using is the astronaut, it does make sense to only return that part to Earth...
    • Don't laugh, it's going to be an extreme sport once space tourism becomes common. A space suited tourist would have a computerized heat shield with thrusters that they'll be strapped to and dumped out the airlock. They re-enter and land with a regular parachute after falling through the entire atmosphere from orbit.
  • Good Luck, Old News (Score:3, Informative)

    by east coast ( 590680 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @01:35PM (#23536807)
    Been there, Done that. [wikipedia.org]
  • Re-entry (Score:3, Interesting)

    by EdZ ( 755139 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @02:06PM (#23537027)
    From the second page of TFA:

    "I can't think of a bigger stunt, other than perhaps trying to re-enter the earth's atmosphere with just your body, and I think we're a long way away from that."

    It sounds pretty feasible to me. Assuming the jump is from above the atmosphere but not from orbit, the re-entry heating is fairly small (SpaceShipOne had little to no heat-shielding). Given a spacesuit and some sort of partially-rigid insulating blanket (like the old 'astronaut's inflatable lifeboat' idea), it's probably only a matter of time until someone jumps out of a suborbital craft.

    • What about using something like a surfboard? Laying on it instead of standing, of course - unlike the scene at the end of Darkstar.
    • by skidv ( 656766 )
      I don't know much about this topic, so I'm going to speculate.

      I wonder if the issue with reentry from orbit is the heat generated when scrubbing off the horizontal velocity. Basically, the space shuttle is aerobraking [wikipedia.org].

      Since he doesn't have to establish or maintain an orbit maybe he'll have little or no horizontal velocity .

      When I jumped from a hot-air balloon (from 5,000 feet), there was no forward velocity. At first, there was only a little air resistance. Then, as I accelerated due to gravity, I had mo
  • by Dogtanian ( 588974 ) on Sunday May 25, 2008 @02:15PM (#23537081) Homepage
    When I get older losing my hair,
    Many years from now.
    Will you still be sending me a valentine,
    Birthday greetings, bottle of wine.
    If I'd been setting several new records by skydiving from the edge of space, breaking the sound barrier for the first time in history and risking death in several interesting and horrible ways
    Would you lock the door?
    Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
    When I'm sixty-four.
  • Elaborate Suicide (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MrMista_B ( 891430 )
    Cool, but I don't give the guy much of a chance of survival.
  • Is it just me that noticed that he wouldn't be breaking the speed of sound at all? At such high altitudes the atmosphere is thinner, where the real speed of sound is faster than the ground speed (e.g. faster than 340ms, and almost certainly faster than he can travel at). Correct me if I'm wrong (which I know of course you will)
  • Makes me think of the really cool Boards of Canada video for their song Dayvan Cowboy [youtube.com]. The video starts from high in the atmosphere and then down into the water and waves.
    • The beginning of the video IS video from Kittinger's jump.
    • It occurred to me couple years ago that one of the things that makes skydiving a little expensive is the parachute. To slow a person down enough to touch down on land means the chute has to be quite large and thus quite fragile in order to be packed down small enough. Fragile chutes wear out quicker as well. So why not touch down on water instead? You could tolerate a much higher touchdown speed and thus you could use a much smaller parachute. The chute could be made thicker and sturdier and still be packed
      • You have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. Do a web search for skydiving or something.
        • >You have absolutely no idea what you're talking about.

          What do you mean? Are parachutes not fragile or not expensive or are they cheap to rent or do they have much better used value than I think or what? The first link from a Google search for parachute is the parachuteshop.com which lists new setups at about $4000 and a used main canopy at $1200. That leaves plenty of room for reducing cost. I'd estimate that a chute with 1/4 the area could be made of fabric four times thicker and still come in a frac

          • They are not that fragile - they last for 1500-2500 jumps. You'll have to change linesets every 400-800 jump though. Most fabric in skydiving gear is made of nylon, including the canopy. The cost of a small canopy is almost the same as a big one - the labor in creating it is the expensive part - not the materials. Smaller chutes have lower tolerances during manufacture as well, making things more expensive. Look at http://www.square1.com/manufacturers/square1/p1282.asp [square1.com] (big student canopies), compared to
  • He was supposed to jump today above Canada. I would think he'd have done it by now but I can't find any news about it. There must be some video of this unless it ended tragically. By the way, who is going to stay in the balloon or does it just drift into space?
  • Bruno Gouvy... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dargaud ( 518470 ) <slashdot2@NosPaM.gdargaud.net> on Sunday May 25, 2008 @05:40PM (#23538515) Homepage
    Extreme snowboarder Bruno Gouvy [youtube.com] had planned to do this 15 years ago before he fell off La Verte. His plan was a bit different: instead of jumping from very high up and use the lower pressure to gather more speed, he wanted to jump holding to a one-ton bullet...

    I'm still curious as to whether this was doable or not. It would still take at least 4500 meters of free fall to go to Mach one... And letting go of the handles must be a bitch of a slap in the face!

    • Why would he hold on to a bullet of any weight? It's not as if gravity would pull him down noticeably faster than if he were wearing a streamlined suit. Try dropping 1-kilo weight and a 10-kilo weight. They'll drop at the same speed.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by dargaud ( 518470 )
        You are talking about a vacuum.

        It's all about air friction and terminal velocity: a normal falling body reaches about 200km/h at normal pressure. Drop a heavy and profiled 'bullet' and there's no real limit to the speed it can reach.

  • The funny thing is that I don't even play that game, but the cut-scene where Sarge (? --see, I really don't play this game) jumps from some spaceship in outer orbit made me think of this feat to be performed.
  • Correct me if I'm way off base on this one, but wouldn't this require some immense hearing protection? I mean, coming out of supersonic speeds will cause quite the deafening vibrations against his ear drums, won't it?
  • I for one would like to take this opportunity to welcome our new supersonic sub-orbital overloards from inner space!
  • Supersonic, eh? That's one fast Fournier!
    With this trick he'll be the master of his domain!
    Indeed, this feat will transform the field of skydiving forever!

    *dodges rotten fruit*
  • by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Monday May 26, 2008 @12:55AM (#23541019) Journal
    In supersonic skydiving, nobody can hear you scream.
  • According the Michel Fournier's site: http://www.thesuperjump.org/retranscription.html [thesuperjump.org] (in French) the sky dive has been delayed due to unfavorable weather conditions.

    It has been rescheduled for tomorrow when weather conditions are forecast to be much better.
  • Because of high winds this jump has been put off until tomorrow, 5 am Canada time.
  • This project is cursed:
    French skydiver's hopes deflate as balloon escapes Updated Tue. May. 27 2008 8:06 AM ET CTV.ca News Staff
    French skydiver Michel Fournier's massive helium balloon appeared to break free from its moorings Tuesday, soaring into the sky and deflating his hopes to set a new world record for highest jump. It was the second straight day that Fournier's hopes were cut short.
    http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20080526/skydiver_freefall_080527/20080527?hub=CanadaAM [www.ctv.ca]
  • Michel Fournier's record skydiving project failed today (Tuesday May 27th 2008), because the balloon left the capsule with Fournier behind. Source: http://www.i4u.com/article17593.html [i4u.com]

"I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens." -- Woody Allen