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.

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.


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