Breaking records and pushing the limits of humanity Fearless Felix Baumgartner and his Red Bull Stratos team have had their sights set on space, jumping from space. Over the last 6 months Felix has performed a number of test jumps, building up to his record breaking jump 36.6 kilometers up (120,000 feet), from the edge of space.
While technically sky diving Felix is jumping from a very different sky than we see at ground level. Blackness replaces blue while the curvature of the Earth drops away in the distance.
Very few people have visited these lofty heights, only rockets bound for space and once secret black aircraft such as the U2 and SR-71 are able to safely fly at these altitudes.
Even though Fearless Felix is jumping from impossible heights there will still only be 4 minutes of free fall time as he hurtles towards a potentially very sudden stop. Initially his speeds will be extremely high, the low density of the atmosphere at the edge of space allows Felix to free fall at over 1000kmh, breaking the speed of sound which is 1150kph (690mph) at that altitude. As the atmosphere thickens he will gradually slow down.
Felix and Red Bull Stratos will have two records in his sights when he leaps from the balloon, the records for the highest jump and fastest free fall speed, both records risky in their own right.
The final record breaking jump was scheduled to happen on Monday (8th of October) but bad weather has delayed the jump 24 hours. Launching from a runway in Roswell New Mexico Felix will ride the Helium filled balloon 36.6 km’s straight up. Then, after performing the required checks on his fully pressurized suit, he will leap out of the balloons gondola which closely resembles a space capsule of the Apollo era.
The low density of the atmosphere also has the unfortunate side effect of making the fist seconds of free fall almost completely uncontrolled. Skydivers normally control their flight through the use aerodynamic surfaces; hands, arms. legs and feet for example. All create aerodynamic resistance that can be used to change your flight path and control the free fall. At the edge of space the air is so thin that the aerodynamic effect is negligible, no air, no aerodynamics. For those first few seconds Felix will be relying on his fall from the gondola being perfect, no twisting or sudden movements he needs a smooth fall. To skydive from higher altitudes skydivers will require rocket thrusters of some kind to afford the jumper a level of control.
The Red Bull Stratos team has had to redefine many technologies to allow the feat. Beginning in 2010 they began development of high speed parachutes, life-support full pressure suits and the largest capsule even used to haul a man under a helium balloon.
March 15 2012 saw Felix complete his first two test jumps from an altitude of 21.8 km. After a 90 minute balloon ride Felix reached the test altitude and jumped, followed by 3 minutes and 43 seconds of free fall during which he reached a maximum speed of 580km/h (360mph). This was just the warm up.
July 25 2012, the Red Bull Startos Team and Fearless Felix complete the second round of testing. Raising the stakes the test jumps this time round were performed from an altitude of 29.4km. Again after a 90 minute ride straight up Felix leapt from the fully function gondola. The trip straight down this time took 3 minutes and 48 seconds, not a lot longer but Felix did reach the much higher top speed of 862kph (536mph), approaching the speed of sound and just short of the altitude world record which is currently 31km.
While Felix Baumgartner’s Skydive is from the edge of space, space itself technically begins at an altitude of 62km. leaving plenty of room for future records. With each new attempt new technology will be created to allow the extraordinary to become ordinary.
With the record breaking jump only hours away the tension builds. Is it one step too far? Will Felix capture the record safely or become a human pancake? Only time will tell, what we can say for sure is that Red Bull it seems really does give you wings…