Wednesday, June 20, 2007


You know that moment when you're a kid and you learn the awful truth about the unholy Tooth Fairy/Santa Claus/Easter Bunny trinity -- that moment that simultaneously cripples your youthful wonder in the supernatural while introducing you to the concept of the fallibility of authority figures? You know which one I'm talking about? Well, I sort of recall feeling something similar the instant I realized that most of what I read in Popular Science was never going to happen in my lifetime (case in point: flying cars).

But I have to admit that this month's issue did some yeoman's work trying to restore my faith in the absolutely scientifically implausible by running a pretty kick-ass article on "space diving," or perhaps more accurately the potential thereof. [Link to follow when it comes online.]

First of all, the article is all but guaranteed to be USDA Grade A quality solely by virtue of the fact that it was written by a guy who seriously goes by the name of Speed Weed. I couldn't possibly care less that his first name is actually William (and Speed is -- no joke -- his middle name), when you decide to trade on a professional name that sounds like something last year's sophomore class was really into, you really have no choice but to bring out the big guns.

Part of what makes the concept of space diving so alluring , or at least possible (to me in any event), is some absolutely riveting footage of Joe Kittinger jumping out of a hot air balloon at 102,000 feet:

Pretty dope, eh? The thing I always find mesmerizing about this video is just how fast this dude was traveling sans vehicle. I, for one, was always under the impression that I would likely soil myself were I ever to be hurling through the upper atmosphere at roughly the speed of sound. Some of the experts in Weed's piece speculate that a human body might have to endure a sonic boom beyond speeds of Mach 1 -- but:

In 1966 an SR-71 Blackbird broke up at 78,000 feet while traveling at Mach 3.18. The pilot, Bill Weaver, survived. He left the plane at three times the speed of sound but, because he was unconscious, he can't describe any [theoretical] shock waves he might have experienced. He sustained no lasting damage.

One can only hope something like that doesn't happen in the SR-72 (?)...

[There's plenty of incredible footage of Kittinger's jump on YouTube or Google Video, all of which is worth checking out, including this 23+ minute reel of raw (and soundless) USAF footage mostly comprising film of Kittinger getting into his suit.]

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