Adrenaline junkies in search of the highest high should look to the edge of space for their next fix. When it comes to extreme sports, it’s the ultimate frontier and it’s called Space Jumping. And this isn’t just a sport of the future, it’s happening now.
This summer has seen the culmination of a pioneering space race between two extreme believers – an English stuntman and a French adventurer - vying to break the long standing record for the highest ever Space Jump.
The original record was set by the legendary Captain Joe Kittinger, a test pilot in the US Air Force and three times Vietnam vet. In August 1960, Kittinger floated to the edge of space in a gondola dangling beneath a helium balloon. At 102,000 feet (31km) up, he stopped his ascent and took in the view. The sky above was the blackest black, the sun a pure ball of white and beneath him, the clear blue curve of planet Earth. Kittinger knew if his pressure suit failed, he was a dead man. “Lord, take care of me now” he breathed and jumped. Travelling fast enough to rattle the sound barrier, Kittinger plummeted from the edge of space to the New Mexico desert equipped with little more than a parachute.
In almost fifty years, no one has come close to challenging Kittinger’s record - until now.
When Michel Fournier failed in his third attempt to beat Kittinger last May, he left the field open to his younger British rival, Steve Truglia. Like the rest of the world’s media, Truglia was watching as Fournier’s ninety five metre balloon broke loose, floating into the Canadian skies without him. Truglia admits to a “small chuckle”, but that doesn’t make his mission any less of a monster. “I’ve done some pretty big stuff in my time” says Truglia, “but nothing like this. I’m actually in awe of the project.”
Truglia is ex-SAS with over 1200 parachute jumps under his belt. He’s also a record breaking free diver, rock climber, a mountaineer, a canoeist and motor sports enthusiast. But he is not, he stresses, an adrenaline junkie. “I hate adrenaline, it makes you shaky”. Nevertheless, he admits loving “being in a thrilling situation and doing something that’s very dangerous and trying to mitigate that risk…It makes you feel very, very alive.”
When Truglia takes the leap later this year he’ll be watched closely by the entrepreneurs in space tourism. They see space jumping as the most extreme adrenaline adventure in the world. And not just for professionals, but for anyone keen stroke crazy enough to be a super fly guy.
In the US alone there are half a dozen major players developing rocket powered space vehicles and suits to keep passengers safe while they circuit the stratosphere. But it is Truglia who will be subjecting his to the first true test: make or break, life or death.
“Orbital Outfitters”, is one industry pioneer that will be checking out his performance. Their “Space Diver” project aims to enable civilians to bail out in low orbit and skydive to earth either in an emergency or eventually, just for the sheer hell of it. “Sometimes when you create a fantastic safety tool,” says Jeff Fiege, CEO, “people then learn how to use it for pleasure.”
Fiege’s space jumping suits will be subject to expert tests over the next two years. After this, his “expensive hobby” will be open to all-comers. “You’re falling at hundreds of miles an hour, you’re going to break the sound barrier with your body, you’re jumping from a place where you see the whole curvature of the planet. It’s the ride” he promises, “of a lifetime.”
The edge of the world awaits you now.