Monday, May 26, 2008

Le Grand Saut

About the time Blogger autoposts this timestamped entry, and if the surface winds are low, a man named Michel Fournier is riding a balloon-lifted capsule, preparing to jump out 130,000 feet above southwestern Saskatchewan. He has a parachute, but he doesn't plan to open it until he has fallen to five thousand feet above the North Battleford farmland. He is attempting to break the records for the longest freefall descent and the fastest human-only travel, and more importantly to prove that high altitude ejection is viable for spacecraft encountering re-entry difficulties.

Fournier refers to it as "un projet ancien francais," as the European space agency was working on such an ejection system for their shuttle, and Fournier was scheduled to make a test jump in the late 1980s. But the jump was cancelled with the European shuttle program, and the French government refused him permission to try the jump on his own, with other sponsors. The Canadian government said yes, selecting the area around North Battleford as having few lakes in which an unconscious jumper might drown, and pretty much nothing to hit. I've flown there, and while it's not the most desolate piece of country I've ever seen, I have to agree that there is not a lot to hit.

There's no NOTAM out yet for either a high-altitude skyjumper or balloon. I suppose that would defeat their stated plan to keep the planned landing location secret to prevent anyone interfering with the recovery operation.

Here is the English version of Fournier's own website on the project. Presumably that will be updated to announce if he goes on Monday. There are articles about the jump in the New York Times and at France24.

This is Fournier's third attempt, so I guess the adage about "try, try, again" does apply to parachutists, after all.


LemonJelly said...

I was on Fournier's "ground team" (basically I was a local skydiver who wanted to be a part of this) for the last attempt in 2003. Despite the lack of lakes, they did have 2 scuba divers standing by to dive in to get him if it came to that. They had been trained on how to extract him from his rig if he was underwater and unconscious.

Would have loved to have been there for this mornings attempt, but I have a flying lesson. I was recently saying to friends how much harder it is to fly planes vs jump out of them!

Wishing Michel 'Blue Skies' this morning.


Anonymous said...

The current record holder's (or should I say previous?) adventures are covered in the first episode of the Video series, Rocket Science.

Aviatrix said...

It appears the jump has been postponed to Tuesday.

Icebound said...

I wonder if he missed his boat.

The winds died down nicely this afternoon in that High, but it is moving away and he is going to be faced with stronger southerlies tomorrow.

lemonjelly, how long does it take them to fill it? Could they have started, say, 2pm, and still made the jump before dark??

Also, What is their surface wind criteria??

Filling those babies in the wind must be fun....

[Back in the "old" days (when Canada still used to do science), part of our job was forecasting winds for high-altitude payload projects over northern Manitoba. ]

LemonJelly said...

It would take approximately an hour the last time they filled the balloon up. It rose into the sky, and a moment before it would have lifted the capsule, it tore apart (This was the last attempt in 2003).

The winds are so calm this afternoon - it seems like it would be a perfect time. Fill at 2, launch at 3:30, reach altitude at 5:30, jump, land at 5:40 - and there would be hours and hours of daylight left for recovery.

majroj said...

Lordy lordy lordy!
Your blog and reader's comments spurred me to read up. Fournier is 64 years old! Hey, retire already!!

The current record holder has had quite a life too...and he is now 79 years old! Virtually one of our first astronauts (but working in poorly pressurizd ballon gondolas), he later wound up doing two tours in Viet Nam, being captured on the second.

majroj said...

MathFox said...

The BBC is reporting that the attempt failed: the balloon got away without payoad.

Anonymous said...

NOTAM was issued both days it was attempted for the balloon itself, mentioned the size (18 million cubic feet!!), altitude and a large area of land that was effected.