Felix Baumgartner was born in Salzburg, Austria on April 20, 1969 and as a young boy he dreamt of flying helicopters. Little did anyone know at that time that he would become one of the most famous skydivers in history. At 16, he attempted skydiving for the first time. At 43, he stands close to attempting what no other human being has ever done – fall to earth, literally. Felix Baumgartner is planning to jump from the edge of space and fall freely to earth while breaking the sound barrier on his way down.
As Felix prepares for the record jump from space at a distance of 23 miles, he attempts to break the record of Col Joe Kittinger. In 1960, US Pilot Joe Kittinger created a record for jumping from a distance of 102,800 ft. The fact that his record remains unbroken fifty years later speaks for itself. Numerous attempts were made, but all efforts were unsuccessful. This summer, there is a good chance that Joe Kittinger’s record will be broken forever and with a new almost impossible one being set in its place.
Felix Baumgartner is nothing less than a legend when it comes to skydiving. He has been at it for most of his life and has many daredevil acts to his credit. In 1999, Felix created the highest base jump from a building world record by jumping from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. To continue with his record creating spree, Felix became the first person to fly across the English Channel in 2003 with the help of specially made wings. Felix created another the record for the lowest BASE jump when he flew off the hand of the famous Christ the Redeemer Statue, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. With many more records under his belt, no one seems more suited to the task of falling to earth at unimaginable speeds that Felix Baumgartner.
The work to attempt the free fall from the edge of space began in early 2010 with Felix training with none other than Joe Kittinger and space scientists. The work was briefly halted due to litigations faced by the sponsor of the “Stratos” project, Red Bull and commenced again in early 2012.
The Red Bull Stratos project, as it is now known, will be a landmark experiment in space research. The most remarkable feature, apart from the distance of 23 miles, is the speed which will be attempted by Felix during freefall. In the 4 minutes and 35 seconds that he falls freely to earth, he will reach the speed of sound and exceed it before he opens the parachute to land on earth.
No date is yet set for the remarkable feat, but it may happen anytime between the months of July and October this year. The event will begin with Felix being lifted to the stratosphere in a fortified capsule attached to a specially designed helium balloon. Once at the desired altitude, he would jump off into space and plummet down towards earth at speeds exceeding that of sound before opening his parachute to land safely. Once Felix jumps out of the capsule, the helium would be released slowly and the capsule would parachute down to earth.
Felix has been training with the NASA trained experts for this daredevil stunt which is more of an experiment in space. With more and more private companies foraying into the commercial viability of space travel, Felix’s experiment is more of a demonstration suggesting that a freefall from the upper atmosphere and reentry into the earth’s atmosphere is a possibility. The information that is being and will be gathered during the “experiment” can be used by private commercial transport providers. The transport companies may find the statistics and data interesting when designing the escape system of the transportation carrier.
For the jump, Felix wears a specially designed suit made from a material that is both fire resistant and acts as an insulator against the extremely cold conditions that he will be facing. The suit that covers him from head to toe will be the only protection that he will have until he reaches the friendlier lower atmosphere. The suit weighs a total of 28 lbs, with the helmet weighing about 8 lbs. The suit provides oxygen to Felix from the capsule during the ascent into space and would be proving him the essential component from two cylinders attached to the suit one he prepared to leave the capsule.
Felix has already successfully attempted the test jumps from a height of 13.5 miles and is gearing up for the actual event with his team. As with all space missions the slightest error can result in a catastrophe for the Red Bull Stratos project and Felix. Any number of things can go wrong. For example, a free flat spin with speeds exceeding 150 revolutions per minute can can make Felix bleed through his eyeballs. If the protection of the suit fails in any way, the low air pressure can make his blood vaporize. Other risks that he faces are bends from rapid exposure to the low atmospheric pressure, trauma due to the air outside being at a lower pressure than the air in his body, depletion of oxygen and anoxia. To monitor his conditions at every second, Felix will be wearing a chest mounted recorder that would be recording and sending all voice messages and vital statistics including the speed of descent, heart rate, etc to the ground team.
As a man who describes himself to be happiest when he is in the air, Felix Baumgartner is only days away from attempting the impossible. The preparation has been meticulous, with Felix practicing his body movements in freefall with the special suit on. The climate has been checked over and over again to determine the best time when the skies are absolute clear. If everything goes as planned, Felix would become the first man to dive from the edge of space and break the sound barrier during free fall and land safely on earth.
Nothing like a bottle of champagne afterwards!