In 1924, asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, Englishman George Mallory is famously reputed to have answered, "Because it's there." A similar sentiment was likely on the lips of Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner on Sunday before he jumped out of a helium-filled balloon 39 kilometres above the Earth.
Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine, died in their attempt to conquer the mountain, demonstrating, if nothing else, that extreme feats of courage and idealism can end badly. Baumgartner landed, happily and literally, with both feet on the ground.
In his descent of more than nine minutes, and before popping his chute at 4:18, he reached a speed of 1,324 kilometres per hour in free fall, or Mach 1.24, faster than the speed of sound. No person has fallen so far or so fast.
Humans have always attempted the impossible, for no better reason, it seems, than to prove it is not impossible. Escape artist Harry Houdini broke out of steel padlocks and chests buried underground in the early 20th century. Aviatrix Amelia Earhart flew by herself across the Atlantic Ocean in 1937. Just last June, the daredevil Nik Wallenda became the first person to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope.
Every generation is transfixed by these feats and every generation thinks that the limits of human accomplishment -- if not human foolishness -- have been reached. But only one thing is certain: a new Everest will always be there. Continued