gistofthegrist

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Barnstorming: the Overview Effect

As someone that used to parachute, I was fascinating by the story/daredevil exploit of Felix Baumgartner a couple of days ago. The official website.

Whilst Baumgartner’s feat is extraordinary and certainly will help keep alive [perhaps even help to reboot] the ‘space dream’ which began in the 1950’s, [aside: can we really be only 2 months away from the 40th anniversary of the last steps on the moon? Will mankind return there (or farther) before those 12 special men have passed on?] especially for ‘average Joes’ that desire affordable/accessible space tourism, I couldn’t help but wonder [as others have] about the real nature of this ‘endurance feat’.

I’m not talking about the undoubted few that will think it was all a Capricorn One style, filmed in a TV studio conspiracy. I’m talking about the actual nature of the event, how it is being sold to us and how it sits in the history of human endeavours. Yes, Baumgartner broke three aviation records – for height reached in a balloon, for highest skydive, and for the highest speed with which a human being has fallen, Mach 1.24 [ I am glad that previous record holder Joe Kittinger was not only present at Mission Control for the occassion but that his record for the longest skydive still stands. Can it really have taken 52 years to break the other records? ] but given the ‘assists’ involved with most record breaking these days is it honest to really class this as human rather than technological [or at best some kind of human/tech hybrid] endeavour?

One only need think back a little ways [before Health and Safety prevented everything] to find feats of daring that somehow seem more inspiring [early mountaineers with woolly jumpers and hemp rope/pioneers crossing deserts with animal-skin waterbottles/seafarers with sticks and pebbles and their knowledge of the stars to navigate across oceans]. Where you feel the stakes were somehow higher/more real? [that might sound odd – death is death afterall.] I guess this is for two reasons: The risk seemed higher [no safety net/rigorously tested  and retested kit, etc] and that it was man against nature/the environment/himself pretty much unaided [with only the simplest of technology].

No, for me the most inspiring/touching/poignant thing about Baumgartner’s adventure [and I hope for him too – the ‘Overview Effect’ of seeing our Earth from Space is an area which is still much under researched] was being able to catch sight of the ‘membrane’ of our fragile little blue home.

I see Earth. It is so beautiful!

Yuri A. Gagarin – first words in space, 12 April 1961.

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