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No 'Space Jump': How David Blaine's 'Ascension' compares to other balloon dives

David Blaine's aerial stunt may have been impressive and dramatic, but other ballooning skydivers have gone far higher.

Blaine rose into the Arizona sky today (Sept. 2) beneath a bouquet of multicolored balloons, employing the escape strategy pioneered by curmudgeon Carl Fredricksen in the 2009 Pixar film "Up." During the livestreamed event, called "Ascension," Blaine reached an altitude of nearly 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), then slipped out of his harness and fell back to Earth.

Twenty-five thousand feet is way up there, but it doesn't even sniff the balloon-skydiving record. In 2014, Google executive Alan Eustace jumped from a scientific balloon at an altitude of 135,890 feet (41,419 m). That's nearly 26 miles (42 kilometers) above Earth's surface.

Related: Real-life 'Aeronauts': the true stories of high-altitude balloonists

Eustace broke a mark set just two years earlier by Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner, who dove from his balloon at 128,000 feet (39,000 m). Baumgartner's dive smashed a record that had stood since 1959, when U.S. Air Force test pilot Joe Kittinger jumped from about 19 miles (31 km) up.

Eustace and Baumgartner both wore special pressurized suits during their landmark dives, and Baumgartner ascended inside a custom-built capsule. Blaine, by contrast, took to the skies wearing regular street clothes — a black jacket, black pants and sunglasses. (Blaine did take supplemental oxygen with him, however, and began breathing the stuff once he reached about 20,000 feet, or 6,100 m.)

To be clear, Blaine did not set out to smash the altitude record with "Ascension." The project, a mixture of danger, drama and aesthetic appeal, was intended to push different buttons. 

"The idea is, I want to grab a bunch of balloons and go floating all the way up into the sky until I almost disappear," the illusionist and endurance artist said in an update about the project this weekend.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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  • JCook
    Did they say what the plan was for the balloons afterwards? Were they able to pop them, follow them to pick them up? Or were they just left to land somewhere, like the ocean where we already have an issue with trash and balloons killing wildlife?
    Reply
  • rooted
    JCook said:
    Did they say what the plan was for the balloons afterwards? Were they able to pop them, follow them to pick them up? Or were they just left to land somewhere, like the ocean where we already have an issue with trash and balloons killing wildlife?

    While I share your concerns with the amount of water pollution this doesn't register on the scale of problems.

    Besides I'm certain the assembly holding the balloons has a GPS tracker.
    Reply
  • JCook
    This doesn't register on the scale of problems ?!

    We aren't talking about one small child's party balloon - which is enough to kill one sea turtle. What did this stunt accomplish beyond allowing one man to fulfill a childhood dream? It wasn't a record-breaking stunt and it wasn't scientifically significant. So it would be incredibly selfish and environmentally irresponsible to completely ignore the impacts this one stunt can have upon the planet that billions of us share. Imagine if a lot more people pulled these stunts and left their trash everywhere - the beautiful scenery he got to witness would be destroyed!

    I really do hope they had more respect for our planet and that they cared about all the equipment enough to track and retrieve it!
    Reply
  • rooted
    JCook said:
    This doesn't register on the scale of problems ?!

    We aren't talking about one small child's party balloon - which is enough to kill one sea turtle. What did this stunt accomplish beyond allowing one man to fulfill a childhood dream? It wasn't a record-breaking stunt and it wasn't scientifically significant. So it would be incredibly selfish and environmentally irresponsible to completely ignore the impacts this one stunt can have upon the planet that billions of us share. Imagine if a lot more people pulled these stunts and left their trash everywhere - the beautiful scenery he got to witness would be destroyed!

    I really do hope they had more respect for our planet and that they cared about all the equipment enough to track and retrieve it!

    When there are entire islands of trash floating in the ocean these balloons indeed don't register on the global scale of problems. I agree with your sentiment and believe everything matters but I'm talking about billions of tons of plastic, rubber, and other non-biodegradeable trash. Trust me I love the ocean and live a few miles from it, when I visit the beach I only leave footprints.



    I also have nothing good to say about Blaine or the stunts he pulls other than they are exceptionally planned which is why I feel the recovery of these balloons was considered.
    Reply
  • JCook
    Thank you for responding, and I'm glad you care about the environment too!
    Reply
  • ghjm
    While Blaine did not come close to setting an absolute balloon altitude record, he does appear to have broken the cluster balloon record, which was previously 21,194 feet. Perhaps this is worth at least a mention in the article?
    Reply
  • TJ McKinnon
    JCook said:
    Did they say what the plan was for the balloons afterwards?

    I didn't watch the whole. Thing on YouTube but on Joe Rogan's podcast, Blaine explained that the balloon vehicle was legally obliged to land itself and that it was designed to do so.
    Reply
  • Lexilex050
    For everyone asking, I watched the entire live stream and they mentioned their plan to get the balloons back. Not only was there a gps in the balloon rig, but they also had it set up to be remote controlled so that they could get it back easily after the stunt was over (also so that they could get David Blaine back down if he passed out up there). So don't worry, they weren't going to let the balloons just go. They planned this all extensively.
    Reply
  • Plant Soil
    JCook said:
    Did they say what the plan was for the balloons afterwards? Were they able to pop them, follow them to pick them up? Or were they just left to land somewhere, like the ocean where we already have an issue with trash and balloons killing wildlife?
    So did you bother researching what there plan was before riding on over here on your high horse of morality to complain.The height you look down on must be much higher one then this trick. But anyway rich western countries been polluting for how many decades now.? And still with no plans or will to change it. (Never gonna happen) Yet you find the time to complain about a man and his balloons.
    Reply