Air Force Captain Joseph Kittinger, Jr. jumps from Excelsior III balloon gondola in 1960 test, freefalling toward Earth for over 4 minutes.
Can you imagine jumping from a plane or other vehicle at near-orbital distances? You'd have to be crazy. Or maybe a science fiction writer. The first person to think of the idea of space diving from near-orbital altitudes is arguably E.E. 'Doc' Smith, in his classic 1934 novel Triplanetary:
Back toward the trailing edges then, to a small escape-hatch beside which was fastened a dull black ball... He gasped as the air rushed out into near-vacuum... He rolled the ball out onto the hatch, where he opened it: two hinged hemispheres, each heavily padded with molded composition resembling sponge rubber...
...He curled up into one half of he ball; the other half closed over him and locked. The hatch opened. Ball and closely-prisoned man plummeted downward.
And as the ball bulleted downward on a screaming slant, it shrank! (Read more about ablative heat reentry shield)
Getting back to the present, the space diving suit currently under development by Orbital Outfitters is both an extreme sporting device and an emergency backup for returning from space.
One of the developers of the space diving suit, Jonathan Clark, is a former NASA flight surgeon with a somber reason for working on the suit. His wife, astronaut Laurel Clark, was killed in when the space shuttle Columbia burned up in reentry.
Clark and his partner Rick Tumlinson, who founded the Space Frontier Foundation, hope to demonstrate a 120,000 foot jump by 2009. The current record for a skydive, set in 1960, is 102,800 feet (see photo).
The first space dive, from a height of sixty miles, would be attempted two years later (see an artist's rendering of the space diving suit).
Via space diving.
(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission from Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction.)