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Watch David Blaine fly to 18,000 feet using a bunch of balloons

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Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

He’s caught bullets with his mouth, he’s submerged himself underwater for seven days, he’s spent 72 hours in a Tesla coil chamber — such is the extreme way of life for performer David Blaine. Though he rose to fame as a magician, most of Blaine’s activities these days involve life-threatening endurance tests. His latest feat promises both childhood wonder and daredevil spectacle.

On Wednesday morning (weather permitting), Blaine will ascend into the sky using a cluster of helium-filled balloons. He won’t be the first person to defy gravity in such a way, but with Ascension, he may be the first to do it by holding tight to a bunch of balloons like a five-year-old at the zoo. According to flight plans (via Variety), Blaine will be carried up by 42 8-foot balloons and 10 smaller balloons measuring 4-6 feet each. The balloon choices are based on his weight of 198 pounds.

Blaine underwent rigorous training in both skydiving and breathing in low-oxygen levels in advance of the stunt, and he’ll have a parachute on standby, plus a team tracking his vitals by helicopter in case his body temperature drops to dangerous levels. But it is by no means a Hollywood stunt. He’ll still purposefully strand himself at 18,000 feet where everything could go wrong. The twist of “Ascension” is that audiences can experience it live from his perspective, thanks to the support of YouTube livestreaming and a camera rig attached to his body.

“I’ve never gone up beyond just a few hundred feet,” Blaine admitted with a laugh during the early moments of his stream. All of his prior tests have either been with sandbags flown to the apex height, his method of studying wind and temperature effects without actually submitting himself to the stunt beforehand, or simply flying off the ground at low altitudes to get a feel for the rig. He’s never actually done what people will witness during “Ascension.”

The performance was originally scheduled to occur over New York City’s Hudson River earlier this week. Due to inclement weather, Blaine and his team relocated to the Arizona desert. Maybe not as magical, but certainly safer for the stuntman, who would prefer “Ascension” isn’t his final trick.

“Ascension” livestream is currently rolling in advance of the stunt, and as announced by his team, Blaine will likely take off around 7:45 a.m. PDT/10:45 a.m. EDT. Watch the stunt above, and get a taste for the prep work in this trailer.

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