A View from Above: Geography explores the outdoors

by Fiona Ferbrache

The scientific method has close connections to ideas about progress and innovation.  In 2010, a question was posed in the Guardian: “Can a human break the sound barrier?” This question may well be answered later this year when skydiver, Felix Baumgartner, will free fall to earth from the edge of space.  Taking a balloon to roughly 37km above the earth’ surface, the skydiver is expected to be the first human to break the sound barrier during his ten minute return flight.  Baumgartner’s adventure will be facilitated by a range of technical apparatus including oxygen tanks and a special suit designed to withstand temperatures of -94ºF.

The theme of adventure and exploration in this sky diving story connects with Area’s special quarterly section Exploring the Outdoors.  Celebrating the multiple ways in which geographers engage with outdoor spaces, the papers in this collection address activities such as climbing, mountaineering, mountain rescue and fieldtrips.  Each paper contributes to our knowledge of the outdoors, but the strength of this collection emerges in the co-construction of the multiple relations that link science and adventure, from both human and physical sides of geography. As Couper and Yarwood (2012) emphasise in the introduction to this collection, ‘outdoors’ provides a conceptual field from which to transgress this geographical boundary.

Providing an overview of this collection, Couper and Yarwood also acknowledge its limitations. They note, among other things, that “it remains predominantly land-based in its consideration of outdoor-spaces” (p.5).  With this in mind, Baumgartner’s upcoming adventure may offer some alternative approaches for geographic engagement with the outdoors.

  Skydiving from the edge of space: can a human break the sound barrier?, The Guardian

  Sky diver to break sound barrier with jump from edge of space, The Telegraph

  Pauline Couper & Richard Yarwood, 2012, Confluences of human and physical geography research on the outdoors: an introduction to the special section on ‘Exploring the outdoors’, Area 44 2-6

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