S38 (Program)

Was the nickname of a project carried out in the late eighties by the Ministry of Defense of France to study the effects that astronauts may experience during a free fall from the stratosphere. At that time the European Space Agency (ESA) was carrying out a project to develop a space shuttle called "Hermes" that would give Europe independence in transporting astronauts into space. When the explosion of the Shuttle "Challenger" occured, ESA strated to explore different ways to allow to save the lives of astronauts in a similar occurrence.

The project was developed in two phases. The first one involved the ejection from 38 km of an instrumented dummy (see picture at left) from a stratospheric balloon launched by the French Space Agency (CNES) from Aire Sur L'Adour, which took place in 1988. The objective of the second phase was to perform a similar jump also from a balloon, but using a human being that would be transported to the stratosphere in a pressurized gondola.

After a previous selection, three people left as candidates for the jump: two astronauts and a military parachutist named Michel Fournier, but due to a lack of funds, the second phase of the project was never completed. Shortly after that, Fournier retired from active duty and sold all their belongings (house, car, furniture, and even his collection of weapons and medals) to bought all the "hardware" remnant of the defunct project to continue it on their own.

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