Supersonic Freefall & a King’s Death

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

SihanoukTwo stories in the British newspapers today caught my attention. Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic leap from space and the death of King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia.

◄  In 1999 I was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia with photographer Richard I’Anson working on our coffee table book Rice Trails – ‘a journey through the ricelands of Asia.’ We were there to see a royal ploughing ceremony to mark the start of the rice planting season. After the ceremony who should stroll by right where I was standing? Yes King Norodom Sihanouk.

from 111,000 feet
▲ The earth from 34km, for $1000

The supersonic freefall articles generally concluded with the thought that getting the Austrian daredevil up to 39km (128,000 feet) and back down to earth cost his sponsor Red Bull ‘many millions of dollars’ so it’s unlikely he’ll have many imitators. Even the ‘one time only’ balloon cost a quarter of a million. True enough, but two years ago a thousand bucks of my sponsorship got a balloon up to 34km (111,000 feet) and brought back some very nice photographs and video of the event – we used a Canon A560 still camera, programmed to take a shot every 5 seconds, and for video a GoPro HD Hero high definition video camera which recorded continuously. Altogether our payload weighed just 700 grams and we sent it aloft under a helium-filled Chinese weather balloon. Click here to see my original story.