The Sound Barrier-Breaking, Longest-Ever Skydive

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

Less than-ideal weather conditions forced postponement of Michel Fournier's attempt at a record setting skydive over Saskatchewan, Canada Monday but he hoped to try again Tuesday. The 64-year-old Fournier was scheduled to enter his pressurized gondola at 4 a.m. Tuesday to be carried for more than two hours by his 650-foot balloon to 130,000 feet (close to 25 miles high) above the earth -- where he planned to step out. Fournier said it's the highest-ever parachute jump attempt he'll move faster than the speed of sound ... weather permitting. Prior to the jump, reports indicated the fall could take more than 15 minutes (including time under canopy) and would take Fournier faster and farther than any previous skydiver, setting records for altitude in a balloon, fastest freefall, duration of freefall, and altitude to initiate freefall. Col. Joseph Kittinger, Jr.'s record jump of 102,800 feet -- set Aug. 16, 1960 -- now holds top honors, literally. Reporters were told over the weekend Fournier expected to exceed the speed of sound while trailing a stabilizing drogue chute as he fell through 117,000 feet, accelerating to a maximum speed close to 1.68 Mach. En route, Fournier would pass through temperatures expected to be as cold as negative 115 degrees Centigrade, opening his parachute more than seven minutes after beginning his fall.

Fournier says his trip was inspired by the loss of life when the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger shuttle exploded during liftoff. All aboard were killed. The former French military paratrooper hopes his project will aid research into extremely high-altitude vehicle escape methods. Initially funded by the French pursuit of space travel, the European Space Agency cancelled its own shuttle program in the late 1980s and Fournier later found his own sponsors.