Extreme Sports: Woman to Skydive from Space

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Woman to Skydive from Space

By Larry O'Hanlon,
Discovery.com News

Oct. 27, 2000 — Imagine skydiving from the space shuttle. Then imagine the next best thing: jumping from the gondola of a balloon hoisted to the edge of space and hitting supersonic speeds on the way down.

It's parachutist Cheryl Stearns' dream that by this time next year she will have made the balloon drop and set the world record for highest skydive.

Stearns, already a world champion skydiver and professional pilot, starts this weekend to prepare to jump from a dizzying 165,000 feet above the Earth. That's a fall of thirty-one-and-a-quarter miles — straight down.

Because the jump will start in sub-orbital space, she'll be wearing a pressure suit — virtually a customized spacesuit adapted for her unique quest. During the first minute of the fall there will be so little air to fall through that she will quickly reach speeds between mach 1.3 and 1.5, before slowing down in the thicker air of the lower atmosphere.

The lower she gets, the more air resistance and the lower her terminal velocity will be. She will actually be a little slower at 10,000 feet than a "normal" skydiver because of her large suit and extra gear.

"There's very little room for error," says Stearns. "This is not an easy endeavor — that's why it hasn't been done yet."

Unlike our hypothetical space shuttle parachutist, Stearns will not burn up in the atmosphere from air friction because she'll not be moving around the Earth at high orbital speeds. In fact the only reason she'll exceed the speed of sound is because there's not enough air in the stratosphere to slow her down. She won't even have enough air to help her orient her body to avoid dangerous tumbling. That's why she's started training now, a full year before she hopes to make the jump.

The last time anything like this jump was attempted was in the 1950s, says skydiving coach Gene Chacker of the Raeford Parachute Center in Raeford, N.C. But that from just over 100,000 feet and without free falling, he says.

"What she's getting into is extreme," says Chacker. "It's nothing to fool around with. It could be deadly in an instant."

Stearns has gathered together a team of experts for what she's calling Project Stratoquest to help her pull off the record-setting fall. Included on the team are people skilled and experienced in every aspect of the project, including balloons, pressure suits and high-elevation medicine.

"She's probably the most qualified female parachutist in the world," says Chacker, who was once Stearns' coach and remains her friend.

Stearns is aiming for October 2001 for her record-setting dive and hopes to make the balloon ascent and landing somewhere in the center of the United States, like Kansas or western Texas, she says. She's currently looking for sponsors to help disperse the cost of the project.

-- Maxwell (dont-know@not-telling.xxx), November 02, 2000


If she's looking for money, I'm sure there are several companies who'd be willing to cough up a few bucks. In return, of course, for the rights to develop and market the soon-to-be new "Stearns' Crater" tourist attraction in Kansas -- or western Texas, whichever.

-- I'm Here, I'm There (I'm Everywhere@so.beware), November 02, 2000.

I saw a show on Discovery or History Channel or one of them about that Air Force guy in the 50s who did the previous jumps. As best as I can recall he jumped 3 times and was nearly killed each time. Also, I think that spinning out of control was the biggest hurdle to a successful jump, which is why he always used a small chute to stabilize his fall. Once you start to spin and tumble there is not enough air resistance available for the jumper to recover from the spin, the spinning and tumbling gets so extreme that the jumper passes out. This is seriously dangerous shit that this gal is going to try, if she tries to do it freefall I think she is gonna die. You read it here first, freefall=die.

Maybe Batesville Casket company should look into a sponsorship.

-- Uncle Deedah (unkeed@yahoo.com), November 02, 2000.

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