One of the few new stories that offers the adrenaline rush not always found in the recent political wrangling is Felix Baumgartner’s October 14th Red Bull Stratos “space jump.” Like many air sport pioneers before him, Baumgartner’s risky jump made skydiving news around the world, including live televised feeds of his journey.
While media channels are touting the event as the first “space jump,” those with a true expertise realize that a genuine space jump just isn’t yet possible with our current technology. In fact, the actual realm of space does not begin until 62 miles (327,000 feet) above Earth. Baumgartner’s jump from an altitude of almost 24.26 miles (128,100 feet), however, is farther than any ever attempted before.
Retired Air Force Colonel Joseph Kittinger, who played a key role in Baumgartner’s quest, set the mark high with his August 16, 1960 jump of 102,800 feet (more than 19 miles). Kittinger was in free-fall for a full five minutes before it was safe to pop open his chute, and he reached speeds of 614 miles, faster than any other human free fall in the atmosphere. Kittinger demonstrated his awe for Baumgartner’s jump by serving in Roswell, New Mexico’s mission control, reviewing the checklist with the jumper and chatting about the conditions in and around the capsule.
For Baumgartner to push the proverbial envelope, he required the very best technology from today. In order to reach the stratosphere, he relied on the largest balloon that has ever been constructed for manned flight. While the flight wouldn’t have been feasible without the balloon, the windy conditions that have been prevalent in the New Mexico region have delayed the attempt for five days and even for several hours on the actual day of lift-off. Once the winds 700 feet above the Earth’s surface calmed down though, the motions could be put into place to write history.
Baumgartner also wore a specialized pressure suit that is similar to those worn by supersonic pilots. In the threatening environment of the stratosphere, the suit truly needed “…to become a small spacesuit,” according to Jeff Feige, CEO of Orbital Outfitters. The suit not only had to withstand freezing conditions (at times wavering around -90 degrees Fahrenheit) and lack of oxygen, but also the dangerously low air pressure.
Additionally, falling from such a high altitude made the trajectory of the downward spiral quite undeterminably dangerous. Baumgartner’s only methods of steering himself safely back to the planet included keeping his head down and arms at his sides so that he would be less likely to enter a lateral spin that would have been sure to knock him unconscious or kill him.
An ascension that took him almost two and a half hours to complete was capped off when the balloon’s helium was purposefully vented to level the capsule off at a height of 128,100 feet (24.26 miles). When the items of the final egress checklist were carefully considered, Baumgartner was given the final okay to depressurize the capsule and to take the leap.
Jettisoning through the atmosphere at a speed of 833.9 miles per hour, Baumgartner demonstrated unsurpassed control during the free-fall when at 4 minutes 20 seconds the chute deployed as scheduled, gently touching the jumper back down to Earth from heights never before achieved.
All flight–whether it takes place in a plane, ultra-light, hang glider, hot air balloon, or parachute– is a testament to humanity’s quest to make a mark on the horizon. Baumgartner’s attempt offered a respectful nod to each of those who have pushed these same limits. Baumgartner’s success is sure to inspire others to reach for ever greater heights in their beloved air sports.
Four Records Set:
Highest exit from a platform 128,100 feet
Longest freefall without a drogue chute: 4 minutes and 20 seconds
Vertical Velocity: 833.9 Miles Per Hour ~ 373 Meters Per Second ~ Equals Mach 1.24 (Faster than the speed of sound)
Highest manned balloon flight