Tue, 22 Apr 2008 07:26
A 64-year-old retired French army parachutist said on Monday he hopes to smash through the sound barrier with a record-breaking 40 000-metre freefall jump over Canada next month.
Michel Fournier hopes to set four new world records at once: for highest freefall parachute speed, at 1500 kilometres per hour, 1.3 times the speed of sound, along with fastest and highest jump and highest air balloon flight.
The Russian Evgeny Andreyev made the highest recorded parachute jump with a 24 483-metre plunge in 1960, while the American Joseph Kittinger claimed an unverified jump of 31 000 metres in 1960.
The veteran French parachutist will take off on 25 May from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan in a pressurised capsule, harnessed to a 161-metre helium-powered balloon, rising to almost four times the height of an airline flight.
Pressure will be let off gradually to allow him to exit and make his jump, wearing a specially-developed protective suit with two oxygen bottles, in conditions similar to an astronaut leaving his spacecraft.
Fournier told a press conference in Paris his jump would have "considerable repercussions for aeronautics and space, for medicine and high-technology".
French astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy, who is sponsoring the project, said it could help shed new light on the behaviour of the human body at the speed of sound, with potential applications for future rescue operations in space.
The French army piloted a similar project in the 1980s, aimed at developing an ejector capsule for European spacecraft, in which Fournier was due to take part before it was finally aborted.
With more than 8600 jumps to his name, Fournier holds the French height record at 12 000 metres.
His project, which drew teams of specialists in high-altitude and underwater conditions, spacesuits and extreme condition health experts, cost €11.8-million.