Tony Stark may be a fictional character, but not everything in the "Iron Man" films is completely outside the realm of possibility.
At least that much has been demonstrated by Solar System Express (Sol-X) and Juxtopia LLC, two tech startups that have collaborated to create a real-life "Iron Man" suit, which could be used for skydiving from space. Wow.
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Conceived in 2011, the RL Mark VI Space Diving suit would allow thrill-seekers to skydive from up to 62 miles above the earth's surface -- around the edge of space -- and land safely, using thrusters instead of a parachute.
Blaze Sanders, CTO of Sol-X, told The Huffington Post that the idea to devise a suit capable of such feats was developed after hearing about the Red Bull Stratos mission, which aimed to break the world record for highest skydive. (Skydiver Felix Baumgartner went on to complete the 128,100-foot jump in October 2012, breaking the world record for the highest skydive, which had been set back in 1960.)
After two years of research and development, the Sol-X and Juxtopia team developed a supplemental system that can be added on to any commercial spacesuit for a cool $55,000. The system includes thermal protection, augmented reality goggles, finger-tip controls and thrusters based in the boots.
But as the final product turns a suit into a space-diving suit, the suit won't be entirely like the incredibly high-tech ensemble seen in "Iron Man."
"We won't be able to have powered flight and fly through the air like [Stark] does," Sanders said, adding that the suit will also not have the power to stop bullets. "But the end goal is to have [the suit] land like he does in the movie."
So how does this all work exactly?
Using the power gloves, the user would be able to send signals to the suit's control device to change his or her orientation, helping to steady the fall, while the thrusters and wingsuit would allow for a vertical landing. The suit also contains two fail-safes, including a parachute, in case the skydiver needs to bail out mid-dive.
The team has tested the design only in the laboratory, but they plan to begin human skydiving trials starting at 1,500 feet next summer. Sanders expects the team will have a commercially viable product ready -- and hopes to reduce the price to $20,000 -- by June 2016.
Ultimately, Sanders said he envisions the suit will be used for fun, as well as scientific exploration. He also suggested the movie industry could find uses for some of the suit's technology, such as using the boots to ensure stunt doubles land on their feet during high jumps.
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Caffeine For Imprisoned Twins
In the late 18th century, King Gustavus III of Sweden was rumored to have carried out a strange experiment to determine the harmful health effects of coffee. Two identical twins who had been condemned to death had their sentences commuted to life in prison on the condition that one would drink three pots of coffee per day, and the other three pots of tea, for the rest of their lives. The only problem was that the doctors assigned to monitor the cases died before either of the patients did, their observations lost--as the story goes, the tea drinker died first, and there's no record of the coffee-drinker's death. The experiment proved nothing, suffering from a lack of rigor (to say the least). Source: Uppsala University, "Coffee - rat poison or miracle medicine?"
Simulated Anthrax On The Subway
In June 1966, the U.S. Army's Special Operations Division secretly dispersed harmless bacteria in the New York Subway system to model the effects of an outbreak of more harmful germs. According to Army reports, "Test results show that a large portion of the working population of New York City would be exposed to disease if one or more pathogenic agents were disseminated covertly in several subway lines at a period of peak traffic." Source: Deadly Cultures: Biological Warfare Since 1945. Wheelis, Rózsa, and Dando. Harvard University Press, 2006.
Weaponized Fleas In The Desert
Operation Big Itch, 1954, was an attempt to discover the potential of weaponized fleas. The operation, part of the Cold War-era United States biological weapons program, took place at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. According to "Using the flea as weapon," an article in the Army Chemical Review, "In the United States, the plague flea concept was competing against the use of mosquitoes, flies, ticks, and lice. Of these concepts, the United States put most of its energies behind weaponizing yellow fever in combination with the Aedes aegypti mosquito."
Food Through A Hole In The Stomach
U.S. Army Surgeon William Beaumont (above) found an extraordinary patient in Alexis St. Martin, a Canadian trapper who was injured in a hunting accident and left with a hole in his belly that led directly into his stomach. Beaumont attached a string to various foods, including oysters and rare roast beef, and introduced them into the wound to observe the rates of digestion. Despite the unorthodox techniques, this research would later lead to the discovery of the importance of stomach acid in digestion, earning Beaumont the epithet "father of gastric physiology." Source: Experiments and observations on the gastric juice, and the physiology of digestion. Beaumont, Martin and Combe. Maclachlan & Stewart, 1838
Candy For Mental Patients
In 1945, Sweden's new National Dental Service commissioned research, now known as the Vipeholm experiments, in which researchers gave subjects large amounts of sticky sugary candy in order to study the development of cavities. This might not have been so controversial, except that the subjects couldn't give consent to their participation: "The use of mentally handicapped subjects was criticized in the Swedish press and all studies on mentally handicapped individuals were stopped in 1954," according to Topics In Dental Biochemistry by Mark Levine (Springer, 2010).