Space diving, or falling from space into the Earth’s atmosphere before parachuting to a landing… The idea sounds crazy. Although it remains theoretical, a bit more than 50 years, a man jumped from a very, very high altitude. Since then, nobody has ever jumped from anywhere higher.

Joseph Kittinger, a former Command pilot and military officer in the United States Air Force, jumped from Excelsior III at about 31.3 kilometers (102,800 feet). He fell for 4 minutes and 36 seconds, reaching a maximum speed of 988 kilometers per hour (614 miles per hour), before opening his parachute at 5.5 kilometers (18,000 feet). This is still the record for the highest, fastest, and longest skydive. Kittinger previously established another record, while preparing for this jump: because of a malfunction during a previous jump from about 23.3 km, the g-forces at his extremities (he went into a flat spin) have been calculated to be 22 times over the force of gravity.

In case you are wondering what this insane jump might have been like, here are some of the original images, with Kittinger himself commenting:

Kittinger has probably been a strong source of inspiration for many people. As you can see in the cool video below, he has not only inspired skydivers or astronauts:

Recently, former French Air Force colonel Michel Fournier attempted to make record-breaking freefall jumps on three occasions. The first attempt, in 1998, was canceled. During the second attempt, the balloon supposed to take him 40 kilometers high ripped while being filled. The next attempt was unsuccessful due to the skydiver’s reserve parachute deploying inside the capsule during a pre-launch test while the balloon was being filled. As Fournier doesn’t seem to give up, his next attempt has been tentatively announced for May 2011.

Another famous skydiver, Felix Baumgartner was also preparing to attempt the highest skydive on record, but the project was placed on hold in October 2010 after a lawsuit.

So far, it looks like the ones trying to take over Kittinger’s record have been quite unluncky… Pushing the idea a bit further, we could even imagine space diving as a sport… Would you give it a try?

You might also like:

Space Oddities
What if spacetime is timeless?
Endeavour and the ISS as you've never seen them before