Saturday, 4 August 2007


Only six weeks to go now before my 3,000 foot parachute jump, and I've still got a long way to go with both my fundraising and my psychological preparations. To me 3,000 ft seems high - eight times the height of a Saturn V rocket for instance - but what would it feel like to do a free-fall skydive from 20 miles up? As it happens, someone once did just that.

In the late 50s and early 60s, the US Air Force was involved in a lot of exotic high altitude flight research, partly related to the dawning Space Age. Some of this research involved sending men up to extreme altitudes in balloons to carry out various experiments. One of these pre-astronauts was Colonel Joseph Kittinger. On 16 August 1960, as part of Project Excelsior he was required to jump out of an open balloon gondola at a height of 102,800 ft (31,334 meters) - above most of the sensible atmosphere - free fall for several minutes, then deploy his parachute and land safely in the New Mexico desert. He was so high that the sky above him was black and he needed to wear a pressure suit for the occasion. During the free-fall phase of his descent, he is also believed to be the first - and so far only - man to exceed the speed of sound without being in a vehicle at the time. Certainly he achieved a world altitude parachute jump which still stands today.

Here's a video of his historic jump:

I can't imagine how it must have felt to do that.

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