Space diving set to emerge as the latest extreme sport

November 14th, 2007 - 2:28 am ICT by admin  
Captain Joe Kittinger of the US Air Force had set a record in 1960 when he jumped from an altitude of 20 miles, reaching a speed of around 700 miles per hour in his 13-minute descent to the ground.

Now, entrepreneurs and extreme sports enthusiasts are preparing skydives from the edge of space to beat the record set by Captain Kittinger.

They aim to start with a jump from 22 miles to break Captain Kittinger’s record, then build up to 57 miles, which would be the first true space jump.

Organisers say if everything works as planned, paying customers might be able to start their fiery descent from space as early as 2009.

However, instead of jumping from the gondola of a helium balloon, as Captain Kittinger did, the new jumpers will be bailing out from the nose-cone of a rocket ship, one of half dozen or so being developed to loft paying passengers into the heavens for a few minutes of weightlessness and a spectacular view of the Earth.

Experts say developing space-diving as a sport for thrill-seekers is the first step towards equipment that may spare future space travellers the same fate.

“It’s almost a passion for me,” said Jonathan Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon and military high-altitude parachutist, whose wife Laurel was killed during the disintegration of the shuttle Columbia in 2003 during re-entry.

Presently, Armadillo Aerospace of Mesquite, Texas, is developing a computer controlled vertical take-off, vertical-landing spacecraft for the tourist trade, and the Space Diver team thinks the craft could offer the perfect jumping-off point.

The diver would trigger an airbag, springloaded seat, or a small parachute to move away from the spacecraft as fast as possible, so as to avoid a collision as he tumbles into the abyss. Then it would be up to the spacesuit to make sure the he copes with frigid temperatures and near vacuum to return safely.

At an altitude of 20 miles, the air is very thin and there will be no rushing of air and little impression of falling.

Gradually, with decrease in altitude, the air will become denser and pressure against the diver’s body will increase. Air friction will heat the suit, which will be equipped with a circulating liquid cooling system.

According to a Daily Telegraph report, one problem under study will be to prevent divers from going into a spin, which could leave them unconscious.

The team is still debating whether a head-first posture or the traditional spreadeagled horizontal position would work best.

Once within a mile or so of the ground, the main parachute will deploy automatically, the paper said. (ANI)

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