It looks as though something of a duel is afoot between two ventures vying to be the first to break the sky dive altitude record set by military high-altitude-balloon-jumper Colonel Joe Kittinger in 1960. The magic number? -A staggering altitude of 102,800 feet above the Earth’s surface.
Whoever is the first to do it will have to weather extreme cold and near-vacuum followed by intense heat and, likely, intense physical forces as the diver himself breaks the speed of sound. And, no matter who is the first to do so, the ultimate winners may be future commercial astronauts. Thanks to these potential attempts, the final practical outcome could be a field-tested emergency space escape method, ready in case something goes wrong during launch.
In one corner, we have private spacesuit manufacturer Orbital Outfitters founder Rick Tumlinson, who is spearheading an attempt for an orbital skydive under the name SpaceDiver. The project began back in 2007; however, details are scarce and rumors say that the original potential diver has died with others lining up to take his place. No word exists on recent progress.
In the other corner, sponsored by Red Bull, is a more recently-announced program by Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner under the tutelage of Colonel Joe Kittinger himself. The project is called Red Bull Stratos and as far as readily-available information would have me believe, is much closer to breaking the Kittinger record.
At least one 24,000-foot test dive has already been completed, and all press material indicates that the space dive is scheduled for later this year somewhere over North America.
So – aside from the safe return of these brave, intrepid souls, it’s my hope that these attempts generate some press, public excitement, useful data, and prove the concept for getting us future astronauts-to-be the heck out of a tumbling, malfunctioning spacecraft that would in the absence of another way down hurtle us to certain death.
I’m further excited that Red Bull is behind what amounts to an extreme space sport – what with the Rocket Racing League also getting off the ground, the 21st Century looks like it might actually live up to some of our “flying car” expectations…