Born on January 31, 1769, in Paris, France, Andrew Garnerin first conceived of the possibility of using air resistance to slow an individual's fall from a high altitude while a prisoner during the French Revolution. In 1797, Garnerin leapt from a balloon more than 3,000 feet up using a parachute he'd made, which didn't have a rigid frame, and became recognized as the world's first modern parachutist. He died in a balloon accident on August 18, 1823.
Born André-Jacques Garnerin in Paris, France, on January 31, 1769, Andrew Garnerin first conceived of the possibility of using air resistance to slow an individual's fall from a high altitude while a prisoner during the French Revolution. Though he never employed a parachute to escape from the high ramparts of the Hungarian prison, where he spent three years, Garnerin never lost interest in the concept of the parachute.
World's First Modern Parachutist
In 1797, Garnerin completed his first parachute—a canopy 23 feet in diameter that didn't have a rigid frame and was attached to a basket with suspension lines. On October 22, 1797, he attached the parachute to a hydrogen balloon and ascended to an altitude of 3,200 feet, and then clambered into the basket and severed the parachute from the balloon. As he failed to include an air vent at the top of the prototype, Garnerin oscillated wildly in his descent, landing shaken but unhurt half a mile from the balloon's takeoff site.
For this act, Garnerin became recognized as the world's first modern parachutist. (Leonardo da Vinci had conceived the idea of the parachute in his writings, and Frenchman Louis-Sebastien Lenormand had fashioned a kind of parachute out of two umbrellas and jumped from a tree in 1783, but Garnerin was the first to design and test parachutes capable of slowing a man's fall from a high altitude.)
In 1799, Garnerin's wife, Jeanne-Genevieve, became the first female parachutist. In 1802, Garnerin made a spectacular jump from 8,000 feet during an exhibition in England.
Death and Legacy
Following a career that included more than 200 parachute jumps, Garnerin died in a balloon accident while preparing to test a new parachute on August 18, 1823, in Paris.
Parachutes didn't get a serious purpose until World War I, as a quick exit from observation balloons and planes under fire. In World War II, both the Allies and Germans used paratroopers for tactical advantage. On D-Day, more than 20,000 Allied troops descended behind enemy lines in Normandy. Their round canopies famously filled the sky and helped turn the tide of the war. For the most part, these troopers jumped with a static line, which pulled the rip cord for them, and these chutes were designed with limited maneuverability so that divers wouldn't smash into each other.
Today, parachutes play a major role in the NASA space program, ensuring the safety of returning astronauts and that important equipment can be reused.
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