Article: http://www.canada.com/topics/news/story ... e834776828
Skydiver plans to fall from space
French daredevil will drop onto Sask. town
Jim Farrell , Canwest News Service
Published: Saturday, May 24
If the weather co-operates, a giant metallic teardrop will rise into the sky over North Battleford, Saskatchewan town early Monday morning, just as the eastern horizon turns from black to red, and a silver-haired French skydiver will set off in search of four world records.
Two and a half hours later, if all goes as planned, 64-year-old Michel Fournier will open the door of the capsule hanging from that balloon at a world-record altitude of 130,000 feet -- and step out.
Thirty seconds later, with only a hint of atmosphere to slow him at an altitude of 117,000 feet, Fournier will punch through the sound barrier and shatter another record: the fastest human-only descent. Thirteen seconds after that he'll be falling at 1.68 times the speed of sound, in an environment where the temperature has plunged to - 115 C.
At 5,000 feet -- just seven minutes after stepping out of his gondola -- Fournier will open his parachute, having set two more records: the longest free fall in history and the longest time spent in free fall.
Fournier was the star of the show Friday at a news conference in North Battleford, Sask., which is about 130 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon. As TV cameras from Canadian and French national networks captured his every word, he was asked the obvious question:Why?
Fournier, answering through an interpreter, said his quest started in tragedy: the 1986 explosion of the American space shuttle Challenger during takeoff. Since the Europeans were planning on building their own space shuttle at the time, the European Space Agency decided they should investigate the problems of exiting a spacecraft at a very high altitude as a means of saving the crew.
So in 1987, the French ministry of defence funded a project to have a parachutist jump from 127,000 feet, and the next year, Fournier -- a military paratrooper and star skydiver -- was selected to do the "super-jump." But the jump was scrapped after the Europeans cancelled their shuttle program.
That rankled Fournier, so he left the French military in 1992 and began collecting money and sponsors to make the jump on his own.
In 2000, he seemed ready, but when he asked the French government for permission to make the jump, they turned him down.
The balloon required to make the jump would be huge -- 116 metres in height on takeoff. The capsule itself would weigh hundreds of kilograms because of its communication gear and life-support equipment. To have that much mass fall to Earth would be dangerous -- and France is a densely populated country, Fournier was told.
In 2001, the Canadian government offered up North Battleford, since the surrounding area contains few people and there are virtually no lakes -- making the chances of an unconscious jumper landing in water and drowning virtually nil.
After two failed attempts to properly inflate the balloon, Fournier believes he's finally got the design right, and expects to head for the edge of space without a hitch on Monday.
At 130,000 feet, Fournier will vent the pressure from his coffinlike capsule and begin breathing the rarefied oxygen within his space suit. Then he will step out into an environment where the sky is dead-black rather than blue. A small chute will pop out from his backpack to stabilize him into a head-down position. He will then begin his long fall to Earth.
© The Daily News (Nanaimo) 2008