Space diving is the act of jumping from an aircraft or spacecraft into a near-space and dropping to Earth, similar to skydiving. The globally agreed concept of where space starts, 100 km (62 mi) above sea level, is the Kármán axis. The FédérationAéronautique Internationale (FAI), the international standard-setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics and astronautics, recognizes this concept. In order to grant astronaut wings, the United States Air Force uses 50 mi (80 km).

To date, no successful space dives have been performed (above 100 km). Joseph Kittingerjumped from 74,700 feet (22.8 km) in 1959; he then set a long-standing record when he jumped from 102,800 feet in 1960 (31.3 km). Yevgeni Andreyev jumped from 83,523 feet (25,458 km) in 1962 and set a new record for longest-distance free fall, exceeded by Felix Baumgartner, who made three jumps from 71,581 feet (21,818 km), 96,640 feet (29.46 km) and 128,000 feet (39 km) in 2012. As he jumped from 135,908 feet (41,425 km), Alan Eustace set the current world record for the highest and longest-distance free fall jump in 2014.

Highest free falls from space

Higher mesospheric or thermospheric jumps Joseph Kittinger, however, still holds the free-fall record for the longest length, at 4 minutes and 36 seconds, which he attained from 102,800 feet during his 1960 jump (31.3 km).

The first stratospheric space dive was in 1959, when a former command pilot, career military officer and retired Colonel in the United States Air Force dived from a high-altitude balloon, Colonel Joseph William Kittinger II who was born on July 27, 1928, in Tampa, Florida, the United States participated in the Excelsior Project, measuring the impact on high-altitude ejecting pilots, and set a record for the highest, longest distance, and longest-duration skydive in 1960, from a height greater than 102,000 feet (31 km).

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Yevgeni Andreyev and PyotrDolgov arrived from Volsk, near Saratov, on 1 November 1962.

special jump suit for space dive

Before successfully deploying his parachute, Andreyev leaped from the capsule at 83,523 feet (25,458 km) and freely dropped 80,380 feet (24.50 km). Dolgov stayed in the capsule, climbing to 93,970 feet (28.64 km). Dolgov primarily tested an experimental pressure suit and would have deployed a drogue chute like the earlier jump of Kittinger. He hit his helmet when he left the gondola and shattered the visor, resulting in depressurization and his death.

Nick Piantanida made a series of failed attempts to leap from 123,500 feet (37.6 km) to 120,000 feet in 1965-1966 (37 km). Piantanida’s face mask was depressurized during the last attempt. His ground controllers threw the balloon at nearly 56,000 feet instantly (17,000 m). Piantanida narrowly survived the fall, and his brain was weakened and in a coma from which he never recovered due to lack of oxygen.

Kittinger played a leading role in the early 1990s with NASA helping British SAS soldier Charles “Nish” Bruce break his highest record in parachute jumping. Following the mental health collapse of Bruce, the project was suspended in 1994.

Stratoquest was founded in 1997 by parachutist and pilot Cheryl Stearns, to break the record of Kittenger as the first female space diver. This proposal did not come to fruition because of either a serious shoulder injury or funding problems for the project. Felix Baumgartner had completed his jump by the time Stearns was ready to attempt her jump and Cheryl shelved her case.

In 2012, when he jumped from over 128,000 ft (39 km) on October 14, Felix Baumgartner broke Kittinger’s highest altitude and Andreyev’s longest-distance free fall records.

In 2014, when he jumped from 135,908 feet (41,425 km) and stayed in free fall for 123,334 feet (37,592 km), Alan Eustace set the new world record highest and longest-distance free fall leap. Joseph Kittinger, however, yet holds the record for the longest-duration free fall (4 minutes and 36 seconds), which was achieved during his jump from 102,800 feet (31.3 km) in 1960.

Mission to the edge of the space

The prospect of space jumping has many technological criteria and challenges. While entering the atmosphere from a simple drop, where the heat of reentry will be substantially less than that of reentry from orbit, these conditions will be somewhat eased. At any given air density, a person’s terminal velocity is much lower than that of a heavy spacecraft. This is because it ensures that fall speed never reaches the local terminal velocity starting from a stationary platform (although this is very high in a thin atmosphere) and a small light body slows down quite rapidly as the atmosphere thickens.

To slow the higher weights associated with the added equipment, parachutes will need increased strength.

In the event of an emergency situation on Space Shuttle orbiters where alternate reentry approaches are not usable, NASA is known to have investigated the idea. However, given the high energy involved in reentry from orbital speeds, such preparation has not progressed beyond the conceptual level.