Daredevils Through History
Nik Wallenda will attempt to cross part of the Grand Canyon on a tightrope in June 23, live on the Discovery Channel.DCL
Nik Wallenda, a seventh generation member of the legendary acrobatic family The Flying Wallendas, will attempt a tightrope walk over the Grand Canyon.
Not only will Wallenda perform this stunt 1,500 feet above the Little Colorado River, a height taller than the Empire State Building, he'll be doing it without a harness. Wallenda's high-stakes, high-flying walk will play out live on the Discovery Channel on June 23 at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT.
Wallenda comes from a long line of daredevils, and before them comes a long history of thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies. Daredevils don't perform stunts simply for the attention of the crowd or the rush that comes with the feat itself. Rather, as you'll see in this slideshow, they do it to push the boundaries of what is possible.
Even monks can be adrenaline junkies.Getty Images
An early pioneer in aviation and clearly seeking an adrenaline rush, Abbas Ibn Firnas, a 9th century inventor living in Cordoba, Spain, built a homemade glider and launched himself from a tower in the then-Moorish city. His flight was largely successful, in that he glided briefly over Cordoba before taking a hard landing that left him with an injured back.
Still, though, accounts of Ibn Firnas' short flight were well documented and, as a result, word of the feat spread. As professor Salim al-Hassani, Chairman of the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation, told CNN in 2010, Ibn Firnas' glider design even inspired Leonardo da Vinci centuries later.
His flight allegedly inspired another unlikely daredevil in the 11th century, a monk known as Eilmer of Malmesbury (illustrated here), who jumped off the summit of a tower on Wiltshire Abbey and glided a distance of two football fields. Historic accounts of the connections between the two flights are sketchy, but it's plausible that Crusaders could have brought news of Ibn Firnas' attempt back home with them.
Louis-Sébastien Lenormand's parachute was only suited for short falls, rather than high-altitude jumps.Corbis Images
Louis-Sébastien Lenormand might not be the inventor of the parachute. But given that he's the first to successfully use one, rather than simply design it, he could be credited as the father of base jumping. On Dec. 26, 1783, Lenormand jumped from Montpellier Observatory in France using a 14-foot parachute to slow his descent.
As with Ibn Farnas, Lenormand's jump inspired others to take his idea even further. Ten years later, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, a balloon enthusiast, would make the first parachute jump from a hot-air balloon.
Not all early parachute adopters and developers were as successful as Lenormand and pushing the science forward. Franz Reichelt, an Austrian tailor living in Paris, thought he had come up with an inspired design for a parachute, which he tested out in a jump off the Eiffel Tower. It didn't work and Reichelt plummeted to his demise.
Otto Lilienthal has been called the father of flight.Getty Images
Ibn Farnas made one -- mostly successful -- flight. Otto Lilienthal was the first person to take many trips through the air in a glider.
Between 1891 and 1896, Lilienthal conducted a series of experiments with different glider designs, which were inspired by his study of birds. Although Lilienthal died attempting to further his research, his work would become the foundation of modern wing aerodynamics.
Just as Ibn Farnas inspired others, Lilienthal too served as an example to other future fliers. As Wilbur Wright stated in 1912: "No one equaled him in power to draw new recruits to the cause... and no one did so much to transfer the problem of human flight to the open air where it belonged."
Donald Campbell's eighth attempt to break the water speed record ended in his death.Corbis Images
If there's anyone who could be said to be living their life in the fast lane, it's Donald Campbell. A speed and adrenaline junkie, Campbell broke the world land and speed records in the same year, 1964, the only person in history to achieve that distinction. He broke his own records in both categories numerous times.
In fact, an attempt to achieve his eighth water speed world record led to his death in 1967 when his jet-powered boat, the Bluebird K7, catapulted 50 feet above the water, and fell to pieces upon landing, killing Campbell instantly.
Philippe Petit has walked between the towers at Notre Dame de Paris on a tightrope, as well as between two pylons on Sydney Harbor Bridge.Corbis Images
Another famed tightrope walker, Philippe Petit is a French high-wire performer who was the subject of the award-winning 2008 documentary, "Man on Wire."
Petit's most famous performance, highlighted in the documentary, has his tightrope walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York in 1974, a stunt which required a kind of guerrilla planning by Petit and his crew as he did not have official permission to perform it.
Despite being arrested immediately after his successful walk, Petit's feat was so well regarded by the public that all charges were dropped.
Evel Knievel soars over the fountain at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.Corbis Images
Easily the most famous daredevil on two wheels, Evel Knievel's stunts, his costume and his showmanship have made him an American folk hero.
Before performing stunts, Knievel sought a different kind of adrenaline rush by stealing motorcycles and allegedly earned the nickname "Evil" behind bars, though he altered the spelling for his stage name.
Knievel is not so much known for performing successful stunts, as he is for cheating death on the ones that fail. Knievel jumped over the fountain in Caeser's Palace in 1968 and 13 double-decker buses at Wembley Stadium in London in 1975, both of which would lead to crashes resulting in serious injuries, which only increased his popularity. He even attempted to jump Snake River Canyon in Idaho in a rocketcycle, a stunt that would lead to almost certainly death for anyone else. But Knievel survived with only minor injuries after his parachute deployed prematurely.
Alain Robert can attract a crowd when performing a climb.Corbis Images
Alain Robert, the French Spider-Man, scales urban jungles, often wearing no safety equipment and with no specialized climbing tools save a bag of chalk and a good pair of shoes.
Robert has climbed famous skyscrapers, including the Sears Tower, the Petronas Twin Towers and the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, among others. He has also scaled major landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House. And because he is a real-life Spider-Man after all, he has climbed wearing the costume of the renowned webslinger. Not bad for someone who was afraid of heights as a child.
Robert's choice of climbing expeditions has led him to run-ins with local authorities, occasionally leading to his apprehension before he can make it to the summit. In fact, he has been arrested for criminal trespass over 100 times.
Yves Rossy soars in his custom-designed wingsuit.Yves Rossy
Yves Rossy is the kind of daredevil who, with his custom-designed jet engine wingsuit, almost has a super power.
Known as the Jetman, Rossy has taken his wingsuit on flights in which he can reach speeds of 190 miles per hour. Rossy has taken his wingsuit all over the world, soaring above the Grand Canyon, Rio de Janeiro, the Swiss Alps and many other landmarks.
Felix Baumgartner stands on the edge of his record-breaking skydive.Photo via redbull on YouTube
If you want to see what the adrenaline junkie of the future will be like, look no further than Felix Baumgartner.
Following in the footsteps of Joseph Kittinger, who skydived from a height of 19 miles in 1960, Baumgartner took skydiving to whole new heights last year when he jumped from 24 miles above the Earth's surface. His skydive -- or spacedive may be more appropriate in this case -- broke world records, not only for the extreme altitude, but for reaching supersonic speeds.