In a little over two weeks, skydiving specialist Michel Fournier plans to break the world record for the highest skydive ever attempted. If all goes well, he will jump from a balloon at an altitude of around 131,000 feet, or 25 miles above Saskatchewan, Canada. At around 115,000 feet his body will blow through the sound barrier.
At 102,800 feet, he will pass the current world record for highest altitude jump, set by Joseph Kittinger in 1960 (pictured). If exceeding Mach 1 doesn't tear him apart, he doesn't go into an uncontrollable spin and die, and he manages to survive lethally low temperatures, pressures, and oxygen levels, his name will go down in the history books. But why is he doing this? It's not just the record.
When Fournier jumps (it's more a question of 'if'; he's been trying this for years, but been foiled by weather and technical difficulties), the gear he'll have on will basically be a spacesuit. This isn't by accident.
When the Challenger space shuttle exploded during launch in 1987 it was just 11 miles above Earth's surface. If Fournier can survive his jump from more than twice that height, he believes he'll show the world that astronauts can return safely back to Earth from the edge of space. Spaceflight would become a lot safer, saving lots of live and possibly even helping to usher in the commercial spaceflight industry.