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Supersonic Skydiving

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the man-or-meteorite dept.

Space 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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Yet another thing... (1, Informative)

shadwwulf (145057) | more than 6 years ago | (#23536547)

...that was already done on Star Trek [] .

I for one think that it is an interesting idea if they can reliably pull it off.

Re:Yet another thing... (3, Interesting)

DreadPiratePizz (803402) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:Yet another thing... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23539171)

If everyone thought that way, it never will be. I'm really glad everyone is not that negative.

Re:Yet another thing... (1)

DreadPiratePizz (803402) | more than 5 years ago | (#23545375)

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.

Re:Yet another thing... (1)

j00r0m4nc3r (959816) | more than 6 years ago | (#23556055)

I'm sure back in the 1400's somebody probably said the same thing about a restaurant on the edge of the world.

Re:Yet another thing... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23537363)

Looks like fun ! You first...

bets anyone? (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#23536575)

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.....

Re:bets anyone? (4, Funny)

PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) | more than 6 years ago | (#23536643)

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!'

3rd reply! fck yeah! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23536627)

fck yeah! wooooooo! suck on my dingaling!

More savings for NASA (2, Funny)

rueger (210566) | more than 6 years ago | (#23536801)

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:More savings for NASA (2, Interesting)

dpilot (134227) | more than 6 years ago | (#23537469)

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.

Re:More savings for NASA (4, Funny)

FuturePastNow (836765) | more than 6 years ago | (#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...

Re:More savings for NASA (1)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 6 years ago | (#23540011)

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.

Re:More savings for NASA (1)

zehaeva (1136559) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554689)

that sounds amazingly crazy, and fun, and scary.

Re:More savings for NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23543875)

And once that works reliably, the next phase of the project is to build a giant catapult to get them up there in the first place.

Re:More savings for NASA (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 5 years ago | (#23548063)

Didn't Jules Verne use a high powered cannon?

Good Luck, Old News (2, Informative)

east coast (590680) | more than 6 years ago | (#23536807)

Been there, Done that. []

Re:Good Luck, Old News (1)

Chris Pimlott (16212) | more than 6 years ago | (#23536985)

Been there, Done that.
And haven't been back in almost 50 years. And if you'd bothered to RTFA, you'd see they talk about Kittinger's jump; in fact, Fournier has been in regular contact with him and he supports Fournier's jump.

More to the point, this almost 25% higher than that one, about 3.7 miles more.

Besides, given how incredible the footage from the first jump [] turned out, I'd love to see this one in full HD.

Re:Good Luck, Old News (1)

east coast (590680) | more than 5 years ago | (#23542035)

But you're failing to point out that at the time Kittinger did the jumps that it was really a frontier territory. So this is higher? So what? We've been higher at this point. Maybe not jumping but what's the real big deal here? Once you get beyond the science of the Manhigh jumps and into the world of 2008 where we've crossed these altitudes thousands of times both manned and unmanned (yes, we have been back even if it wasn't with a parachute) the rest becomes a dick wagging competition.

And not to dick on your post but RTFA had nothing to do with it. It's a question of the science value of this. We've seen parachutes higher than this but not with the same payload. This is no longer a frontier. 25% higher? Come back and tell me about parachuting from low Earth orbit. That's the next real test and one we won't see results from for sometime in most likeliness... and unlike Manhigh the tests probably won't be "manned" which isn't a big deal given out current grade of technology. The ~20 miles of Manhigh couldn't have been done in their timeframe with the accuracy that they were without a man on board. Today that's just not true.

Manhigh was a matter of necessity, not testosterone or bragging rights.

Re:Good Luck, Old News (3, Informative)

hairykrishna (740240) | more than 6 years ago | (#23537163)

Re-entry (2, Interesting)

EdZ (755139) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Re-entry (1)

UnderCoverPenguin (1001627) | more than 6 years ago | (#23538215)

What about using something like a surfboard? Laying on it instead of standing, of course - unlike the scene at the end of Darkstar.

Re:Re-entry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23539553)

There was a sci-fi story where in the end, the astronaut straps a heat shield/retrorocket to his back (it was made for the purpose) and lands in Utah. Something like a Mercury reentry without the capsule. Came across sounding very plausible.

Re:Re-entry (1)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 6 years ago | (#23540337)

Check out MOOSE [] . Hell of a ride and never constructed, but there's no reason it couldn't have worked.

Re:Re-entry (1)

skidv (656766) | more than 5 years ago | (#23544771)

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 [] .

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 more air resistance (and could control my fall better).

How old is this guy?... Really?! (5, Funny)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 6 years ago | (#23537081)

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 (2, Insightful)

MrMista_B (891430) | more than 6 years ago | (#23537135)

Cool, but I don't give the guy much of a chance of survival.

When birds go flying at the speed of sound... (1)

Philomathie (937829) | more than 6 years ago | (#23537665)

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)

Re:When birds go flying at the speed of sound... (1)

bloobloo (957543) | more than 6 years ago | (#23538169)

You've got it precisely the wrong way round. []

Re:When birds go flying at the speed of sound... (1)

bruce_the_loon (856617) | more than 6 years ago | (#23538323)

He is possibly correct. At high altitude, the temperature drops and the speed of sound drops off. However at very high altitudes, there is an increase in atmospheric temperature that reverses the results from the formulae. At 25 miles the temperature can be up to 18 degrees Celsius that places sound speed at 336m/s. All depends how fast the drop-off is versus his speed/acceleration and atmospheric density.

Mach Calculations [] . Temperature v Altitude [] .

Correct you... (1)

Fnord666 (889225) | more than 5 years ago | (#23543855)

Correct me if I'm wrong (which I know of course you will)
This is slashdot. Not only will someone correct you if you are wrong, someone will almost certainly correct you if you are right.

High Alttitude Skydiving video... (1)

capnal (795722) | more than 6 years ago | (#23537895)

Makes me think of the really cool Boards of Canada video for their song Dayvan Cowboy [] . The video starts from high in the atmosphere and then down into the water and waves.

Re:High Alttitude Skydiving video... (1)

ichthyoboy (1167379) | more than 6 years ago | (#23538627)

The beginning of the video IS video from Kittinger's jump.

Skydiving into water (1)

mrcaseyj (902945) | more than 6 years ago | (#23540199)

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 down into an acceptable size. It could be reused many more times and would retain a higher percentage of its original price when sold used. Rentals would probably be safer, cheaper, more profitable, and more popular. Also, broken legs and crashes into trees and power lines would probably be reduced. Though perhaps drownings would be unacceptably common. Getting into the sport would be much cheaper, with the airplane ride becoming the dominant cost for the first jump. Or maybe I misunderstand the economics of skydiving as it is. Have you heard of this idea before? Does it sound like a good idea?

Re:Skydiving into water (1)

Infensus (640727) | more than 5 years ago | (#23542779)

You have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. Do a web search for skydiving or something.

Re:Skydiving into water (1)

mrcaseyj (902945) | more than 6 years ago | (#23551131)

>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 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 fraction of the cost of a land chute. If touching down in a large water area you could probably dispense with the parafoil design and just go with a simple round design as well.

Re:Skydiving into water (1)

Infensus (640727) | more than 6 years ago | (#23552725)

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 [] (big student canopies), compared to the much smaller [] - which ones is the more expensive? The number behind the canopy in the price table indicates the size in square feet. (I jump a Velocity 96 BTW.) Also, the harness is just as expensive as the main canopy, then there's the reserve as well. Touching down in the ocean would also add salt water to the equation. That kills skydiving equipment in many, many ways. Fresh water is no good either, but nowhere near as bad.

Did he make it? (1)

Liz99 (1291588) | more than 6 years ago | (#23538231)

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?

We'll know tomorrow... (1)

Liz99 (1291588) | more than 6 years ago | (#23538255)

Just found out that the news stories are wrong and he is jumping early tomorrow (Monday) not today.

Re:We'll know tomorrow... (1)

DeathFire (713866) | more than 6 years ago | (#23538479)

Correct, wish I didn't have to work so I could go watch it. []

Re:We'll know tomorrow... (1)

Liz99 (1291588) | more than 6 years ago | (#23539381)

I wonder how long it will take him to get to that altitude in a balloon. I mean, it's dark at 4 am and one would think it'd be better to jump during daylight hours. But maybe it takes a couple of hours to get 25 miles (still don't quite believe it is possible).

Bruno Gouvy... (2, Interesting)

dargaud (518470) | more than 6 years ago | (#23538515)

Extreme snowboarder Bruno Gouvy [] 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!

Re:Bruno Gouvy... (1)

the grace of R'hllor (530051) | more than 5 years ago | (#23542071)

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:Bruno Gouvy... (2, Informative)

dargaud (518470) | more than 5 years ago | (#23542167)

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.

Re:Bruno Gouvy... (1)

the grace of R'hllor (530051) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554143)

Good point. See also 'Rods of God'. Something heavy and low profile will use its greater mass to overcome more friction.

Halo? (1)

thoughtlover (83833) | more than 6 years ago | (#23538705)

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.

Re:Halo? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23540593)

Master Chief, Sarge is Q3A :)

Hearing Protection (1)

aitikin (909209) | more than 6 years ago | (#23538719)

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?

Supersonic/With Super-Hearing-Protection?orAspirin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23538773)

Or is he going to be pulverized by the sound-level?

I think, though, that unless they've done experiments in supersonic wind-tunnels, he's dead-meat: the pain from that sound-level, unshielded by tons of machinery, the abrasive dust eroding his suit, the sonic boom possibly cracking his visor...

I hope, if it does kill him, that it isn't too painful.

Good Luck, man, and I hope I'm wrong ( or that you've done ALL the necessary tests! )

I for one (1)

Agent__Smith (168715) | more than 6 years ago | (#23539087)

I for one would like to take this opportunity to welcome our new supersonic sub-orbital overloards from inner space!

Supersonic (1)

rabiddeity (941737) | more than 6 years ago | (#23539463)

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*

chirp...chirp...chirp... (2, Funny)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 6 years ago | (#23541019)

In supersonic skydiving, nobody can hear you scream.

Re-scheduled to tomorrow (Tuesday27/05) morning (1)

MaxInBxl (961814) | more than 5 years ago | (#23545071)

According the Michel Fournier's site: [] (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.

Put off until tomorrow (1)

Liz99 (1291588) | more than 5 years ago | (#23546161)

Because of high winds this jump has been put off until tomorrow, 5 am Canada time.

Unbelievable! He lost his balloon! (1)

Liz99 (1291588) | more than 6 years ago | (#23554959)

This project is cursed:
French skydiver's hopes deflate as balloon escapes Updated Tue. May. 27 2008 8:06 AM ET 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. []

Jump failed today b/c balloon left w/o Fournier (1)

tuomas_kaikkonen (843958) | more than 6 years ago | (#23562291)

Michel Fournier's record skydiving project failed today (Tuesday May 27th 2008), because the balloon left the capsule with Fournier behind. Source: []
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