Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Sonic booms are cool

I first read this story in the newspaper on Sunday morning, and I can't stop thinking about it. Everyone I've spoken to in the last couple of days has been subjected to this story, so fascinated by it am I.

Did you hear about the 62 year old French guy who's about to be launched to a height of 40 km (25 miles) and do a seven minute free fall on to a Saskatchewan field, exceeding Mach 1 and creating a sonic boom with only his body in the process?

I'm honestly torn between "how wicked cool is that?" and "what kind of suicidal dumbass is he, anyway?"

From the canada.com article:

At 40,000 metres, temperatures are around -100 C and the air is so thin he will have to spend hours beforehand inhaling pure oxygen to remove all traces of nitrogen from his blood. He must nose-dive out of the pop-can-shaped capsule, freefalling for seven minutes before pulling his chute 1,000 metres from landing for an eight-minute descent to the ground. But if he goes into a spin at the start, no one knows if he will survive as he plummets to Earth at speeds reaching 1,500 km/h and in cold dipping to -115 C, breaking the sound barrier at 1,067 km/h and crashing through the ozone layer.

There's also an article in the Times Online that describes the experience of the previous record-holder for longest freefall: "set by Joe Kittinger, a US air force test pilot who jumped from just under 20 miles in 1960 and told of his four-minute 36-second descent in a 1961 autobiography, The Long Lonely Leap. 'There is no sound, no movement,' he wrote. 'No wind hisses in my ears or billows my clothing.'"

Apparently, if Fournier is successful with his Grand Saut (French for Big Jump), he'll break four records: the longest freefall, the fastest freefall, the parachute jump from the highest altitude and the highest altitude achieved by a human in a balloon. The part that really fascinates me, though, is the "crashing through the ozone layer" bit, coupled with the breaking of the sound barrier with his body. From the few articles I've read on this, they have no idea what the impact of creating a sonic boom will have on his body.

What do you think? Is this guy a hero, or a Darwin Award waiting to happen?