Sunday, November 25, 2012

Next: Hang-Gliding From Space

For many of us part of the fascination for sending balloons into space, and parachuting from it, is the proximity of such an exotic realm to our own world, and its accessibility, in some ways, with pretty mundane equipment. That's why personal space balloon launches are cool. (I wonder if the Peep they sent up with this one was still frozen when it came back down.)

And that's why this article on early Soviet space-jumpers was interesting, and why it seems strange that when astronauts come back down from the space station, the first thing they see is Kazakh steppe grass outside their window, and maybe a distant animal herd. More morbidly, that's why the sole of a shoe making it down from orbit separately, on its own during the 2003 space shuttle tragedy seems strange. This shoe made it from space? To the parking lot of a pharmacy? On its own? (It turns out that C. elegans worms survived it.) Even though a mere 20 miles above us the sky is black in daytime and you can see the curve of the Earth, 20 miles across the surface is closer than many of our commutes.

Inspired by this, I was curious whether soft-body gliders had ever been considered by NASA, in addition to the hard-body gliders and parachutes we now use. In the early 1960s glider technology was extensively tested but NASA went with an all-parachute descent. The Paresev glider is actually on display in the Smithsonian but I guess I wasn't paying attention.

If Baumgartner won't do it, then I wonder if Jokke Sommer could make a few phone calls to the usual crew of Branson, Rutan et al.

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