Readings: Skydiving from Space, Beethoven in Kinshasa, Google in Antarctica

Here are some interesting articles I’ve read over the last few days:

1) “Skydiving from the Edge of Space” [The Guardian] – this is a fantastic profile of two daredevils, Felix Baumgartner and Michel Fournier, who’ve long had plans to travel to the edge of space, skydive from there, in order to try to break the sound barrier. The introduction of the piece sets a thrilling pace:

At around 120,000 feet, on the fringes of space, the air is so thin that a falling human body would travel fast enough to exceed the speed of sound. A skydiver, properly equipped with pressurised suit and a supply of oxygen to protect against the hostile elements, could feasibly jump from that height and, about 30 seconds later, punch through the sound barrier – becoming the first person ever to go “supersonic” without the aid of an aircraft or space shuttle.

The two daredevils have been plotting their jumps for years:

Baumgartner has been plotting his space jump for four years, Fournier for 20, and this autumn both projects are coming to a head – 50 years exactly since anyone even came close to leaping from such heights or plummeting at such speeds. That was Colonel Joseph Kittinger, a test pilot, who completed a series of high-altitude jumps from a helium balloon in August 1960, part of an equipment-testing project for the agency that would become NASA.

The jumps cannot take place from an airplane and must be done via a balloon:

It can’t be done from an aeroplane (even a spy plane can only ascend to about 80,000 feet), nor from a rocket (any hopeful parachutist opening the hatch to jump out would be torn to pieces). Ballooning directly up is the only realistic option, but an option still fraught with difficulties. A helium balloon launched into the stratosphere needs continually to enlarge because of the changes in atmospheric pressure, and so must be made of a special expandable material that is less than a 1,000th of an inch thin; clingfilm thin. It also needs to be huge, about the size of an office block.

2) “Playing Beethoven in Kinshasa” [Der Spiegel] – this is actually a two part series (part one | part two) on a story about central Africa’s only orchestra. A new German documentary film, “Kinshasa Symphony,” tells the story of the orchestra’s most recent major performance and how it came to be. I want to see this film. A trailer below:

3) “Explore the World with Street View, Now on All Seven Continents” [Official Google Blog] – Google is making its presence felt, once again. This time, they sent an expedition to Antarctica and came back with views like this. The question: how much do penguins care about privacy?

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