re-sized Felix Baumgarten

Felix Baumgartner and Red Bull intend to set a new record

Felix Baumgartner is a man we have talked about before although I’m almost ashamed to admit that the last time we gave him an article entirely on his own was way back in October 2008. However, he is very much in the news today… Skydiver and BASEjumper, commercial helicopter pilot and stunt co-ordinator, Baumgartner is now organising his own stunt.

Joe Kittinger and Felix Baumgartner discuss the Red Bull Stratos Freefall

As far back as January 2010, it was reported that Baumgartner was working with a team of scientists and sponsor Red Bull to attempt the highest sky-dive on record – a 120,000 ft (36,600 m) jump from a capsule suspended from a balloon filled with helium. He wants to be the first parachutist to break the sound barrier. The jump was intended to happen sometime in 2011 but the idea was temporarily shelved when Daniel Hogan filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court in Los Angeles in April, claiming the idea of the parachute dive from the edge of space was his and that Red Bull had stolen the idea from him! Needless to say, the case was settled out of court to everyone’s satisfaction and on 5th February the whispers became more than whispers and the jump was on again.

Felix Baumgartner and former Air Force Captain, Joe Kittinger

Felix Baumgarten and Joe Kittinger

This was not going to be the first time a man had jumped from a high altitude.  Air Force captain Joe Kittinger made a series of jumps in the 1950’s in the interests of science to see how the human body reacts to high altitudes. His first jump was nearly his last because his parachute malfunctioned opening early and catching on his neck knocking him consciousness. But a month later he was back up at 74,000 ft for his second attempt.

His record-setting dive was on 16th August, 1960, when he launched himself from an altitude of 102,800 feet – at the very edge of the Earth’s atmosphere. He had a very uncomfortable 12 minutes, experiencing temperatures of minus 94 degrees F, but he had made history. He didn’t make the record books as the longest freefall, however, because he used a drogue ‘chute as a stabiliser from the moment he jumped. Eugene Andreev, on the other hand,  jumped from a Volga balloon at an altititude of 83,523 feet and fell for 80,380 feet before deploying his parachute, way back on 1st November, 1960, near Saratov, Russia. They certainly made them tough in the old days!

Baumgartner is also going to use a drogue ‘chute – an aerodynamic one no less. But this jump isn’t being made to break records, ultimately it is being done in the interests of science.  The importance of the Red Bull Stratos Challenge will lie in the advances in spacesuit design and scientific knowledge about how high altitudes affect human physiology, and this in turn could pave the way for space travel in the future. But… one can’t help keeping an eye open for possible records…

1. Altitude record for freefall
2. Distance record for longest freefall
3. Speed record for fasted freefall by breaking the speed of sound with the human body
4. Altitude record for the highest manned balloon flight

After all, this is a jump which will challenge limits that have existed for almost 50 years, whilst gaining data which will help further development into space exploration.

However, Baumgartner will become the first officially recognised person to go supersonic. One other person has done it before but his was an emergency ejection from a damaged plane. Blackbird SR-71 pilot, Bill Weaver had to eject in the Earth’s atmosphere wearing just his flight suit. He travelled at more that Mach 1 and survived. His co-pilot did not.

Baumgartner is going  jump from a stratospheric balloon at 120,000 feet. It is hoped that he will break the sound barrier (go supersonic) before pulling his parachute.  He will be using a specially pressurized suit and helmet for the occasion that will provide an artificial atmosphere as well as providing insulation against fire and extreme cold.

Pioneering space aviators and explorers are all behind this challenge. On 5th August 2010, ServusTV in Austria documented the meeting of Red Bull Stratos Pilot Felix Baumgartner when he met 80-year old Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon,  Russian Alexei Leonov, who was the first to man to walk in space and Thomas Reiter, who took part in the European Space Agency’s longest manned space mission and was the first German to conduct a space walk. In acknowledging Baumgartner, Leonov, and Reiter, Armstrong noted, “I find it interesting that we have four fliers here, all of which are better known for getting out of something than for flying it… We can’t all stay inside flying machines!” 

Point well made, but a primary objective of his Red Bull Stratos freefall attempt from 120,000 feet above Earth is to provide data and protocols that may help to pave the way for high-altitude bailout, particularly in capturing new research information when the human body reaches supersonic speeds. The data captured by this mission and its team of world-leading scientists promises new standards in aerospace safety, expanding the boundaries of human flight.

After the programme, Baumgartner said, “This has been an honor. These men are heroes in every sense of the word, and to hear their stories and receive their encouragement firsthand is inspiring. I’m determined that our Red Bull Stratos mission will honour their legacy by making new contributions.”

Baumgartner’s balloon is set to launch from Roswell, N.M., in August…

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