French skydiver prepares for jump from edge of space

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The 64-year-old skydiver will leap from a balloon on the outer reaches of the stratosphere and plunge 40 kilometres to earth on Canada’s western plains.

26 May 2008
NORTH BATTLEFORD - French skydiver Michel Fournier prepared Monday to leap from a balloon on the outer reaches of the stratosphere and plunge 40 kilometres to earth on Canada's western plains.
The 64-year-old parachutist said it was his life's dream to make the record jump, which will begin at a point four times higher than the cruising altitude of a commercial jet.
Fournier spent Sunday resting and making the final arrangements in the small city of North Battleford, Saskatchewan, from where, weather permitting, he will head up into the heavens in a stratospheric balloon and then throw himself off.
He will be wearing a pressurized suit capable of withstanding temperatures of minus 100 degrees Celsius as he hurtles to Earth.
If he succeeds, Fournier will actually break four world records: For fastest freefall, longest freefall, highest jump, and highest altitude reached by a man in a balloon. It could also someday lead to rescuing astronauts in-flight.
His team leader, Richard Correa, said the moment just after take-off was the most risky, as it would be impossible to eject during the balloon's ascent.
But if Fournier loses consciousness during the jump, his parachute will automatically open.
The team will decide at 2:30 am (0830 GMT) whether the weather conditions are right for the venture, which is estimated to take about three hours in total, in addition to two hours for preparation.
Rain was falling in the province late Sunday.
"This project is a great scientific and human challenge," said Fournier, a former military officer. "This is my baby, my dream. I just want to realize my dream."
His latest skydiving attempt, several years in the works, comes after two unsuccessful jumps in 2002 and 2003 and speaks to his determination. His balloon tore the last time, but he bought a new one for this trial.
If all goes well, Fournier is expected to land some 30 kilometres southwest of North Battleford - chosen for its remote location in case something goes wrong with the balloon - where a helicopter will be waiting to pick him up.
Before Fournier, in 1960 American Joseph Kittinger jumped from 31,333 metres as part of a medical experiment, and in 1962 Russian Evgueni Andreiev jumped from 24,483 metres to set a world free-fall record.

[AFP / Expatica]

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