October 23, 2013
Suddenly, the “edge of space” is a hot destination.
No sooner had a documentary on Felix Baumgartner’s 24-mile-high leap last year come out (you can watch on the web) when a Tucson-based startup, World View, announced plans to take tourists up to the stratosphere starting in 2015. No jumping, though — just sightseeing, from a pressurized capsule hanging from a balloon. Ticket price: $75,000.
The plan, according to a letter from the FAA to Paragon Space Development Corp., the company behind the venture, is for a capsule carrying eight passengers to ascend from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Once they reach an altitude of 18.6 miles, high enough to see black sky and the curvature of Earth, the tourists will float there for two to six hours. The World View video shows lots of big windows for looking out.
In its communication with the FAA, Paragon called its passenger vehicle a “space capsule,” and generally seems keen to use the term “space” in describing the project. Purists might argue. Bear in mind that the balloon will reach less than one-tenth the altitude of the space station. But the experiences we generally lump together as “space tourism” are starting to come in different flavors, each with its pros and cons. For roughly the same price — $95,000 — you can book a ride on the Lynx spaceplane, which will go much higher (200 miles), but on a ride that lasts minutes instead of hours.
Meanwhile, the Perlan Project hopes to crowd-fund their idea to fly scientists up to the stratosphere in gliders to do research. They must be tired of watching their balloon-borne instruments have all the fun.
November 26, 2012
Just the title — Transplanting Beavers by Airplane and Parachute [PDF] — of this 1950 report in the Journal of Wildlife Management raises questions. Like, for goodness sake, why? And how? Did they specially make tiny beaver-sized parachutes and goggles, and push them out of the cargo hold, one by one, like a tiny dam-making army? Once on the ground, did the beavers suffer post-traumatic stress from the sudden drop? Or did they spend the rest of their days mourning in rivers, longing for another taste of the sky?
Fortunately, the article by Elmo W. Heter from the Idaho Fish and Game Department answered all our questions. Even before the parachuting began, the agency had been in the practice of transplanting beavers whose populations had outgrown their habitats so that they became an annoyance on farms and orchards. But the mountainous, forested and “generally inaccessible wilderness” in Idaho had “complicated the beaver-transplanting program,” the report explains. The game department tried moving them by horse and mule, but it was “arduous, prolonged, expensive, and resulted in high mortality among the beavers.” Not to mention that the pack animals became “spooky and quarrelsome” after dragging the understandably upset beavers for days and days.
Heter doesn’t say exactly how he and his colleagues came up with the brilliant idea of an airdrop, though we’d like to have been in on that meeting. They got war surplus parachutes from the Idaho Forest Service, and placed the animals in boxes, one pair in each box. Settling on the release mechanism required some innovation:
The first box tried had ends made of woven willow. It was thought that, since willows were a beaver’s natural food, the animal would gnaw his way to freedom. This method was discarded when it was discovered that beavers might chew their way out of these boxes too soon, and be loose in the plane, or fall out of a box during the drop.
Finally, they rigged up a tension-banded box that cinched tight from its own weight in the air, but snapped open to let the beavers out once reaching the ground. After concluding that 500 to 800 feet was the ideal beaver-dropping altitude, it was time to go airborne.
Satisfactory experiments with dummy weights having been completed, one old beaver, whom we fondly named “Geronimo,” was dropped again and again on the flying field. Each time he scrambled out of the box, someone was on hand to pick him up. Poor fellow. He finally became resigned, and as soon as we approached him, would crawl back into his box ready to go aloft again. You may be sure that “Geronimo” had a priority reservation on the first ship into the hinterland, and that three young females went with him. Even there he stayed in the box for a long time after his harem was busy inspecting the new surroundings. However, his colony was later reported as very well established.
During the 1948 fall season covered in Heter’s report, only one of 76 beavers failed to survive the flight to his new home, due to lightweight ropes used on the first set of drops that allowed him to wiggle out of the box and climb on top. “Had he stayed where he was, all would have gone well; but for some inexplicable reason, when the box was 75 feet [off] the ground, he jumped or fell from the box,” wrote Heter.
One wonders what the native fauna thought of all these beavers dropping from the sky. At any rate, transplanting via parachute saved money and man hours, and left the animals healthier at the end of their journey. When Heter’s team checked in on them the following season, each of these Felix Baumgartners of the animal kingdom had acclimated successfully to their new homes.
Thanks to Mal McKay and Kelly Rand for the tip.
September 25, 2012
The countdown for Felix Baumgartner’s leap from the stratosphere is on.
The Austrian jumper’s capsule (which was damaged in a September trial) is fixed, the Red Bull team has certified if for flight, and the jump is set for October 8. Expect delays, though, as weather will figure in the decision to launch the balloon-borne capsule.
When it does launch, here’s how things are supposed to go:
October 14, 2010
On Tuesday, the energy drink giant Red Bull said it was postponing its Stratos effort, in which Felix Baumgartener will try to break Joe Kittinger’s 1960 free-fall record, until a lawsuit is settled. Courthouse News Service reported in April that Daniel Hogan was suing Red Bull for stealing his SpaceDive idea, which he pitched to the company in 2004,complete with a team comprising a balloon manufacturer, spacesuit developer, flight surgeon, and filmmaker. Red Bull informed Hogan in 2005 that it “would not like to continue our joint work on the SpaceDive project.” (The company debuted its Stratos effort last January.)
What this postponement might mean for other contenders is at the moment unclear. The United States’ Cheryl Stearns and Britain’s Steve Truglia have long campaigned to make the jump, but both seem to have fallen out for lack of funding.
January 26, 2010
On August 16, 1960, U.S. Air Force Captain Joe Kittinger stepped out of the gondola of a balloon at 102,800 feet above New Mexico wearing a pressure suit. In the thin air, he accelerated to 614 miles an hour in free fall before denser atmosphere slowed his plunge to a speed that allowed him to open a parachute.
Those altitude and speed records, which have stood for a lifetime by some countries’ life expectancy tables, may soon fall.
The challenger, Austrian pilot Felix Baumgartner, announced his project, Red Bull Stratos, in New York last Friday. He plans an attempt to break Kittinger’s record later this year with a jump from a balloon at 120,000 feet. Baumgartner should exceed 690 miles an hour—at more than Mach 1, the first person ever to break the sound barrier in free fall—before parachuting to the ground. His backers Red Bull, Microsoft, Nokia, and Riedel Communications have deep pockets and a history of getting things done, so it would seem that if there’s any chance of breaking Kittinger’s record, which was financed and conducted by the U.S. Air Force, this is it.
No one is bubbling with more excitement than Kittinger, 81. “People have been trying to break my records for fifty years, and many have died in the attempt,” he said Friday on the 40th floor of a New York skyscraper where the project was being unveiled. “But I believe that with our unique assets, an extraordinary mission team, the dedication of Red Bull, and Baumgartner’s outstanding skills, Reb Bull Stratos will succeed.”
British stuntman Steve Truglia has been saying for years that he’ll be the next daredevil to break Kittinger’s record, along with others including Frenchman Michel Fournier and American Cheryl Stearns. Their attempts have been foiled by lack of finances, good weather, and plain luck.
Baumgartner says it won’t be a breeze. “This is truly a step into the unknown,” he said. “No one can accurately predict how the human body will react in the transition to supersonic speeds. But we’ve got to find out. Future aerospace programs need a way for pilots and astronauts to bail out at high altitude in case of emergency.”