It was on Sunday 22nd October 1797 that André-Jacques Garnerin carried out the first known parachute descent with a silk parachute at Parc Monceau, Paris. Before he began his ascent the parachute resembled a closed umbrella with a pole running down its centre with a rope running through a tube in the pole that connected it to the balloon. He rode in a basket attached to the bottom of the parachute.
At a height of around 3,000 feet (1,000 m), he cut the rope that connected his parachute to the balloon. The balloon continued its flight skyward while Garnerin, with his basket and parachute, went in the opposite direction! As it fell the basket swung violently. Then it landed – bumping and scraping as it did. Then the basket stopped and out climbed Andre-Jacques Garnerin – the first man to descend safely and climb out uninjured!
This was just a beginning and Garnerin went on to stage regular tests and demonstrations at Parc Monceau in Paris. In 1798 he announced that his next flight would include a woman as a passenger. Although the public and press were in favour, he was forced to appear in front of officials of the Central Bureau of Police to justify his project. They were concerned about the effect that reduced air pressure might have on the organs of the delicate female body and loss of consciousness, plus the moral implications of flying in such close proximity.
However – after further consultation with both the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of the Police – the injunction was overturned on the grounds that “there was no more scandal in seeing two people of different sexes ascend in a balloon than it is to see them jump into a carriage.” They also agreed that the decision of the woman showed proof of her confidence in the experiment and a degree of personal intrepidity.
We’ll come back to the result of that next year!