Some say we humans will one day find a way to fly on our own power.
While that's still beyond our reach, right now a curious race is underway: it's to see who will be the first to fall to earth safely without a parachute.
If mythical Icarus could have glided to the ground after his wings had melted instead of falling to his death, then the cautionary tale of human audacity would have taken on a completely different dimension.
Well, around the world devoted parachutists and building-jumpers -- one could call them new Icaruses -- are testing "wing suits" that mimic the skin of flying squirrels in a bold attempt to become the first human being to purposely fall from a great height without the use of a parachute and still walk to tell the tale.
Perhaps the most courageous (or crazy) of these aspiring flyers/landers is Loïc Jean-Albert of France, who likes to conduct his experiments over jagged mountain peaks. American Jeb Corliss is another notable aspirant. Both have recorded their practice jumps on video.
Are we repeating Icarus's mistake or are we taking steps in a new frontier? Our history is filled with risky challenges like this one. Some have resulted in tremendous failure; others in quantum leaps of development. Barriers are broken, and it appears humankind is attracted to these challenges despite the cost, often paid by the loss of life.
The New York Times recently provided a good overview of these new attempts to make jumping history. You can read the article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/10/sports/othersports/10flying.html. It contains a spectacular video and an interview with Jeb Corliss.
To see a truly astounding piece of video, click on YouTube's "Flying Dude," about Loic Jean-Albert. One can appreciate the danger of this endeavour as he flies past a camera position high on the slopes of a mountain.
If anyone succeeds at this, I don't want to see it live on television. I will watch the video when it's posted afterwards.
Photograph is courtesy of the stock.xchng
If you liked this post, you might find this one from September interesting: it's about another type of record.