August 10, 2010

This is new space.

Esquire, August 2010

This month, Esquire's theme is The Impossible. The issue features a series of articles that investigate and prove that what may have previously been considered impossible, is actually very possible--and happening. Some examples include leaving Iraq, living with 50 million ants and skydiving from space. I haven't yet read the articles about the first two, but the one about skydiving from space was really fascinating. I've always always loved the concept of space. When I was younger, I wanted to be an astronomer and spend my life studying the universe. And I've always dreamed of going, though never actually wanted to become the astronaut for the privilege. Now, among many other really cool things, "The Man Who Would Fall to Earth," informs that some organizations are now designing the necessary machinery and experimenting with the necessary science to create programs that will eventually take TOURISTS to space. In my lifetime!!

"The first thing they did, right there at Ellington Airport was separate Iain from Clark. A CACO drove away with Iain, and Clark learned later that they had gone on an outing to the Kemah Boardwalk. Another CACO took Clark home and helped guide him through the first steps of the grieving process. The CACO got him drunk. Very, very drunk. He stayed drunk for a solid day and a half." (p. 88)

"That same slogan is embroidered onto a predistressed baseball cap available for sale on Felix's Web site, but Felix himself is not wearing any sort of hat today. A hat might have messed up his hair, which early on this Thursday morning, in this hot drop zone, was spiked to perfection with gel. The gel was a problem. The gel could kill him. In the pure-oxygen environment that exists in a pressure suit, a petroleum-based product like hair gel becomes as volatile as napalm. Even the tiniest spark--the merest crackle of static electricity, say--could ignite it, setting his handsome head ablaze." (p. 91)

"He has sat down with Felix and patiently explained some of the things that could go wrong during this sort of jump, many of which he experienced himself. On that day in 1960, for example, the glove of his pressure suit experienced a small leak, and although a wrist seal prevented any other part of his body from taking a hit, his hand underwent partial ebullism, swelling quickly to at least double its size, the limits of the glove the only thing that prevented his hand from ballooning even further." (p. 91)

"To understand what happens next, it helps to first understand that we humans, in our normal earthbound lives, live at the bottom of an extremely deep ocean of air. The air at the bottom of this ocean, at sea level, sags under the weight of the seventy-five miles of air above it, and the oxygen molecules at lower altitudes are consequently squashed together much more densely than those at higher altitudes. This is why a person accustomed to breathing the rich, thickly oxygenated soup that exists at sea level will very quickly become hypoxic, or oxygen deficient, if he tries to subsist for long on the thin gruel doled out at twenty-five thousand feet." (p. 136)

"There's still a long way to go for Stratos. The plan is to make two preliminary jumps, one at 60,000 feet and one at 90,000, before making the final one at 120,000. That jump is currently slated for August, but who knows. Delays are inevitable with these sorts of things. Regardless, Clark is already looking beyond that third jump, above 120,000 feet, faster than Mach 1. There's another company he's involved with, something called Excalibur Almaz, and in the next decade it plans to send tourists up past the stratosphere, into true space, into orbit." (p. 136) !!

"This is new space. This is passion and capitalism stoking the same grand ambitions that fear and nationalism once did. This is corporations picking up the reins of manned spaceflight at the moment when the government's will is at its lowest ebb. This is realizing that before spaceflight can ever become routine, before the ultimate human diaspora can truly begin, spaceflight will first have to be safer, right from the start. This is taking a simple statement about what is possible--the vehicle broke up at an altitude that was not survivable--and working as hard as you can so that someday, next time, it won't be true." (p. 137)

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