baudrunner's space: Right out of the comics and very real
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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Right out of the comics and very real

Real, working rocket-powered backpacks have actually been demonstrated by stunt-men at venues like pro-bowl games and exhibitions. Their practical limitations, such as a pitiful flight duration of only about 30 seconds due to the rapid depletion of their hydrogen peroxide fuel, and the loud eardrum-shattering roar during operation, kept them in the domain of comic books and movies (remember Thunderball?) and pretty much out of the reach of the average consumer.

Not that this is likely to change any time soon. However, a company by the name of Thunderbolt Aerosystems is in the process of developing a practical version of the jet-powered backpack. It will use commonly available jet fuels and, according to an article published in Scientific American online, be able to stay aloft for 35 minutes!

They haven't built it yet. It's still on the drawing board. But they will sell you one that can stay in the air for 75 seconds. And for only $100,000.

The idea is actually pretty old. The rocketbelt was first depicted in Buck Rogers comic strips. The human pioneer who was actually instrumental in making the rocketbelt become a reality was a genius by the name of Wendell F. Moore, a Bell Aerosystems rocket engineer who had worked on the X-1 rocket plane that broke the sound barrier in 1947, with Chuck Yaeger in the cockpit. He was also on the team that developed the X-2 and the infamous X-15, which was the first piloted craft to venture into the fringes of space.

rocketbelt plans

The work at Thunderbolt Aerosystems draws upon Wendell's innovations and, frankly, I have high hopes for it. If they can produce a serious personal rocket pack that can stay in the air for 35 minutes then that will naturally lead to the development of individual moon and asteroid maneuvering systems which will put space exploration light years ahead in our ability to explore the other bodies of our solar system. Kudos to Thunderbolt Aerosystems!

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