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May 29, 2008

Atmospheric freefall

Posted: 09:18 AM ET

As a meteorologist I’ve been fascinated by the French skydiver trying to jump from a balloon at 130,000 feet.  Flying thru the stratosphere at the speed of sound with nothing but a skimpy space suit is just crazy to me.  Michel Vournier dreams of breaking the freefall record were postponed again this week when his balloon flew off without him.  Regardless, the whole story got me wanting to jump.   So up I went with a plane full of other more experienced skydivers at Freefall Adventures in south Jersey.  Going “tandem” with a pro attached to me for safety, we jumped at 15,300 feet (solidly in the troposphere).  That’s about 600 mb of atmospheric pressure (surface is around 1000mb).  So the breathing isn’t easy and I got a little light headed and cold (temperature is less than 40 degrees at that height).  Doesn’t matter cause you’re not there for long, and once you jump the adrenaline erases any chill in the air.  A quick acceleration to a peak speed of 138 mph and you realize Newton was right about this whole gravity thing!  Wow what a ride!!!!  At that altitude the air is thin but oxygen isn’t required… no helmet or space suit either.  Tee shirt, jeans, and instructor Range Luda strapped to my back is all that was needed.  Freefalling for 70 seconds was incredible… spiritual in fact.  I’ve been on top of high mountains, but being that high with NOTHING beneath you is mind blowing.  The view, of course, is phenomenal.  All you hear and feel is the air rushing around you.  You want it to last forever but the ground approaches quickly.  At 5000 feet I pull the chute and Range guides us to a smooth landing.  It’s a rush to say the least.  Admittedly this was my second jump, but the butterflies were swirling just as much as during my first leap 6 years ago.  You say you like roller coasters, a nice view, and being buffeted by the wind?   Well jumping out of a perfectly good airplane may be just the thing for you… just don’t forget to pull the rip cord!!! 

Rob Marciano    CNN Meteorologist

 

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