Monday, October 15, 2012

Music Sunday/Monday: The Flying High Edition (and that's not a drug reference)

If you're looking for Music Sunday, I have to apologize for being a little tardy this week. I was busy for much of today with other things, chiefly watching Felix Baumgartner taking the most awesome skydive in the history of, well, skydiving.

I have to admit, I did not watch the event live. There were just too many things that could have gone wrong, and I could not make myself watch. However, once I knew that everything had gone as planned and he was back on the Earth safely, I sat down and watched the rebroadcast of the event. It was amazing.

I also have to confess that I've never, ever had any desire to skydive. I just don't understand why anyone would want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Yes, I know; that's not an original observation. It does, however, sum up my feelings about the subject perfectly.

Baumgartner's jump today is something orders of magnitude different, though. He rode a pressurized capsule, tethered to a helium balloon, up about 24 miles and then stepped out on a little platform said to be about the size of a skateboard before stepping off for a descent that started with a free-fall of over four minutes. Along the way, before deploying his parachute, Baumgartner exceeded she speed of sound by a significant amount, the first time anyone not in an aircraft has broken the sound barrier. And, after all that, he landed on his feet.

Being the history geek that I am, I think a little historical context is a good thing. And that context is this: Baumgartner's jump, and his achievement as the first human to break the sound barrier without benefit of aircraft, came on the 65th anniversary of Chuck Yeager's flight to become the first human to break the sound barrier with benefit of aircraft. I just hope I don't have to explain who Chuck Yeager is. If you don't know, go watch the film, The Right Stuff, or read the book of he same name, by Tom Wolfe.

Some people see what Felix Baumgartner did today as a stunt, on a par with Evel Knievel's jumps over rows of cars or his attempt (much less successful than Baumgartner was today) to jump the Snake River Canyon in Idaho in some sort of souped-up, rocket-propelled motorcycle. And there is little doubt that Baumgartner was partly motivated by the challenge of doing something no one has ever done before.

But today's achievement was much more than just thrill-seeking. What Baumgartner proved today that can be achieved could be the first step in making space flight safer than it now is. This might have been a stunt, but it was a stunt that collected scientific data that could someday save lives.

But, since it is still Sunday (barely, and not anymore in most of the world)...and there is a song for every occasion and an occasion for every song, I'll leave you with some flight music:

Even though this has nothing to do with skydiving or spaceflight, as I watched the balloon taking Baumgartner aloft today, I kept thinking about this song, "Up, Up and Away", by the Fifth Dimension, from 1967:

And then there's this, Tom Petty's "Learning to Fly", in a live performance from 2006. Some of the lyrics: "I'm learning to fly, but I ain't got wings/Coming down is the hardest thing", could be seen as appropriate to the day in their own way:

Pink Floyd also recorded a completely different "Learning to Fly":

And, not music, but I found this while I was looking around for some music to share with you. It is a dramatization, from The Right Stuff, of that first time the sound barrier was broken. Just, you know, so you really will know who Chuck Yeager (here portrayed by Sam Shepard) is, and what he did:

Well, it has slipped into Monday while I've been writing this, so I'm not sure what to call this. Music Sunday/Monday? It'll have to do, I guess.

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