SEBASTIAN, Fla. -- If you think watching a space shuttle launch is a remarkable experience, try viewing it from 10,000 feet in the air.
Up to 23 skydivers plan on parachuting for a better view of Endeavour's final scheduled launch at 3:47 p.m. on April 29.
"It's so surreal and quiet," said Bob Edmiston, a Port St. Lucie, Fla., resident who has skydived six times before to watch space shuttles lift off from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. "You get to see the whole trajectory and the launch pad when it's taking off."
The group of skydivers will leave from Skydive Sebastian, which is about 50 miles away from the launch pad and the closest skydiving location to the Space Center that is outside NASA's 35-mile-radius flight restriction zone.
Nine of the jumpers, including two NASA space program employees, will build a diamond form using their opened parachutes in a skydiving style called canopy formation skydiving. While a normal jump includes one minute of freefall, this will be a "high hop-n-pop jump," when the skydivers hop outside the airplane and a few seconds later pop their parachutes open to create the diamond shape.
Other jumpers will wear wing suits and open their parachutes at 3,000 feet to 5,000 feet above the ground.
"It's a special jump," Edmiston said. "It's a privilege because there are only 23 spots on the plane."
The signup for the jump began more than six months ago and the participants were selected on a first-come, first-served basis. They must be active and proficient skydivers with at least 50 prior jumps.
"There's no freefall time, you will be flying with 22 other canopies and that's a lot of traffic in the air," said Andrea Roca, from Skydive Sebastian. "It's not a bigger risk than a regular jump; it's just that you need to be more aware of your surroundings."
While most launch viewers face hours of traffic and waiting to get a spot along the Space Coast to see Endeavour for a few minutes, the skydivers' view will include the whole package: watching the shuttle detach from the launch pad and fly past them on its way beyond the atmosphere.
"The only other way you can watch it leave the pad is from TV," said Stuart resident Cal Seibert, who will pilot the DeHavilland DHC 6 Twin Otter airplane that will carry the jumpers if the launch happens as scheduled on April 29. He has been skydiving since 1971 and did his first launch jump during the lift off of Discovery's STS 119 mission in 2009.
Skydive Sebastian's shuttle watch jumps started more than 10 years ago and included Discovery's final flight in February.
Skydive Sebastian already has a signup list with about 30 people to see Atlantis launch in June, possibly the last launch in space shuttle history.
"It's just the tremendous energy it has," Seibert said. "There are not that many things people can do on planet Earth that put a display like a shuttle launch does."
(Isadora Rangel writes for Scripps Treasure Coast (Fla.) Newspapers, The Stuart News, Fort Pierce Tribune and Vero Beach Press Journal. E-mail email@example.com.)