What is Space Diving and Can I Try It?
If you’ve been looking into info about sky diving, somewhere along the line you might have come across some info about space diving. While people who are already apprehensive about skydiving are likely scared to death at just the name space diving, they can rest assured it is extremely unlikely they will ever be pressured to try it.
Unlike sky diving, which people are sometimes coerced into participating in because people at work are doing it for charity purposes, the same is not the case with space diving. In fact, only two people have ever done a successful space dive. Before we get to those people though, let’s learn a little more about how “space” is defined and what space diving actually is.
Space diving explained
Similar to sky diving, space diving is the practice of jumping from an aircraft (or space craft rather) and then free falling towards the earth’s atmosphere, before eventually being slowed by a parachute. Yea, that’s pretty intense stuff.
Except, space divers aren’t actually jumping from outer space, or at least from the widely accepted definition of the word space. Officially, the Karman line is the internationally accepted definition of where space begins, and that is 100 km (62 miles) above sea level.
The United States Air Force however, awards astronaut wings to anyone who goes beyond 80 km (50 miles) above sea level. Even before we start talking about space diving, there are already differing definitions about where space actually begins.
To date, there have only been two successful space dives, and they were performed from a height of 31 km (102,000 feet) and 39 km (128,000 feet) above sea level. While these are less than half the distance above sea level that would be required to be truly considered “space”, those heights are still crap-your-pants worthy when you think about jumping towards the earth from that sort of height.
Currently, a company called Orbital Outfitters is busy working on a suit that will enable space jumps from higher altitudes. Exactly how much higher these suits will allow jumpers to jump from has not been confirmed, and no sort of release date has been set for when this technology will be available.
History of space diving
Space diving first gained true popularity in 2012 when a diver’s video of himself jumping from outer space went viral, and was promoted by the energy drink brand, Redbull. You would be incorrect to think though that space diving is a new phenomenon, as the first space dive was over 50 years ago in 1960.
The first space diver was Colonel Joseph William Kiting II, who was a former command pilot and military officer. Joseph’s jump from 31 km set the world record for longest sky dive ever and it took 52 years for that record to be broken.
The record breaker, and jumper people are probably much more familiar with, was Felix Baumgartner, who jumped from 39 km, and brought the world’s attention to the concept of space diving as we know it today.
Why so long between space dives?
As you can imagine, there are several more complications surrounding space diving when compared to normal sky diving. The first of which is the equipment, which needs to protect the jumper from a whole lot more than normal sky diving equipment. A space diver’s suit needs to protect them against things like hostile temperatures, pressures as well as lack of oxygen.
At the heights they are jumping from, low pressure makes decompression sickness a huge risk, which is why the suit is essential for space diving. Also, if the suit is to be breached or ripped in any way, the jumper can lose oxygen or suffer from many other negative results.
G-force also poses a problem for space divers. When divers pass through the thin air into the thicker air below them, the diver could slow to rates that would result in positive or negative G-force, causing blackouts among other complications related to pressure.
So when will space diving become mainstream?
In all honesty, no one can really answer that question accurately. It could be within the next 10 years, or it could be never. There’s really no way to predict these things – and given how extreme and dangerous it is, it’s pretty difficult to do tests to see what works and what doesn’t, without seriously putting a person’s life at risk.
Think about it this way: space diving has only been completely twice successfully, and only once in recent history. Space diving is just as new at this point as sky diving was after the very first person ever jumped out of an airplane with nothing but a parachute. We can’t give any sort of estimate for how long it will take until space diving hits the mainstream, but it’s pretty safe to say that it’s going to be a very long time, indeed.
Even when it does come to the mainstream, it is very unlikely that the average person will be able to partake in it easily. For one thing, there will be a whole lot more training involved than with traditional sky diving. Usually a person can undergo an hour or two of training and then do a tandem jump with a Jumpmaster. While there are still no programs in place to train people for space jumps, there is no way a couple of hours will be able to prepare someone for jumping from outer space.
Also, the costs involved will be much higher. While small planes can take flight fairly cheaply, a space ship can’t. Even when space diving becomes easier to accomplish, it will likely be an activity that only the seriously rich will be able to partake in, sort of like going to outer space now, without jumping out of the spacecraft.
So while your chances of trying space diving any time in the near future are quite slim, it’s still a very interesting concept to follow, if you’re at all interested in sky diving.