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Skydiving from 71,500 feet: Red Bull Stratos test jump a success


March 19, 2012

Felix Baumgartner stares down the barrel of the first test jump in the Red Bull Stratos pr...

Felix Baumgartner stares down the barrel of the first test jump in the Red Bull Stratos project (Photo: Jay Nemeth/Red Bull)

Image Gallery (26 images)

Daring Austrian base-jumper and skydiver Felix Baumgartner is aiming to break a record that has stood for almost 52 years. In fact he is aiming to break four long established records, starting with world's highest manned balloon flight (120,000 feet or 36,576 meters) highest skydive (currently 102,000 feet ) and the longest freefall, which may well see him break the sound barrier as he plummets for nearly 23 miles (37 km) towards Earth. Last week Baumgartner jumped from 71,581 feet in the first manned flight test by the Red Bull Stratos project, but to reach its ultimate goal the team must beat Joe Kittinger's record for the highest freefall set in August, 1960.

A record that's tough to beat

Kittinger is amazing. He is not only an advisor to the Red Bull team, but is a decorated military pilot as well as the first person to cross the Atlantic solo in a gas balloon. His career includes three combat tours of Vietnam, before he was shot down and spent 11 months as a POW, eventually returning to the USA and retiring as a colonel in the Air Force in 1978. He is still an active pilot, but best remembered for his part in the research into high altitude bale-outs.

Baumgartner's high tech gear is a far cry from Kittinger's 1950's Air Force issue high alt...
Baumgartner's high tech gear is a far cry from Kittinger's 1950's Air Force issue high altitude suit

Leaping from his open gondola at 76,400 feet (23,300 m) on November 16, 1959, Kittinger's very first high altitude jump nearly ended in disaster as he lost consciousness and went into a flat spin that was calculated to have exerted 22 times the force of gravity on his extremities. Fortunately his parachute opened automatically and a year later, he made his final jump from an altitude of 102,800 feet (31,300 m), reaching a speed of 614 mph (988 km/h). During this jump his pressurized right hand glove failed and in the rarefied atmosphere his hand swelled to about double normal size, but he completed the jump to set records for the highest balloon ascent, highest parachute jump, longest drogue-fall, and fastest speed by a human being through the atmosphere.

Col. Joe Kittinger's leap of faith

Baumgartner's 71,581 feet test jump

Fast forward 52 years, and the Red Bull Stratos team has just spent five years developing its state-of-the-art, pressurized life-support capsule and space suit, intent on breaking Kittinger's records. Weighing 2,900 pounds (1,315 kilograms) 11 feet (3.4 m) high by 8 feet (2.4 m) wide, the capsule hangs approximately 150 feet (46 m) below the helium-filled balloon which will take it to the edge of space. When Baumgartner jumps, the capsule releases the balloon and returns to Earth via its own parachute. As he leaves the safety of the capsule, Baumgartner relies on his special space suit to protect him from the minus 70 degree F outside temperature.

The balloon launch during the first manned test flight for Red Bull Stratos (Photo: Jörg M...

The Red Bull Stratos team's first manned test flight took place on March 15 over the New Mexico desert. During the jump from 71,580 feet, Baumgartner hit speeds of almost 365 miles per hour and spent 3 minutes and 33 seconds in freefall before his chute opened at 7,890 feet.

The jump went "exactly as planned" although combating the extreme temperatures remains a challenge. "I could hardly move my hands," said Baumgartner. "We're going to have to do some work on that aspect."

Inside the capsule (Photo: Jay Nemeth/Red Bull)

Although just a stepping stone towards the 23 mile main event, this successful test means that Baumgartner joins Kittinger and Russia’s Eugene Andreev as only the third person to leap from that altitude and survive.

Another test from the altitude of 90,000 feet is planned before Baumgartner and the Stratos shoot for the record later this year ... and there will be one man with his fingers firmly crossed.

USAF colonel (ret.) Joe Kittinger during his final inspection of the capsule for Red Bull ...

Source: Red Bull

About the Author
Martin Hone Martin spent 17 years as road and track tester for Australian Motorcycle News and has raced motorcycles for over 40 years, picking up an Australian Championship in 1993 in the Unlimited Class Historic. An aircraft builder and experienced recreational pilot, he currently operates a test flight and maintenance facility, owns a Ducati 1000 and a Buell 1200 … and writes for Gizmag.   All articles by Martin Hone

That is one of the few things I REALLY want to do....


(5 miles of brown paper, 100 gallons of paper glue, 10 miles of string...... etc.)

Mr Stiffy
19th March, 2012 @ 08:28 pm PDT

I may be wrong, but I think that something known as "terminal velocity" will prevent him from getting anywhere near the sound barrier.

Jesse Jones
19th March, 2012 @ 08:49 pm PDT

Sign me up. Please. Pretty please. With cherries.

Christopher Porozny
19th March, 2012 @ 09:05 pm PDT

In normal atmospheric pressure the max speed a skydiver can reach is only about 130mph. But way up at that altitude where the air is thinner he could reach much more than that. Also when his body does break the sound barrier it will be less stress on him, again due to air density.

Ross Jenkins
19th March, 2012 @ 10:31 pm PDT

Speed of sound in space = 0 m/s

Speed of Sound at 102000 ft (31090m) = 327 m/s

Speed of Sound at sea level = 343 m/s

(Woolfram alpha)

Um 100k ft is not even half way to space...

Still plenty of air resistance....

Maybe he can get to 300 miles per hour (133 m/s)

Still a long way to Speed of sound....

Like to hear the boom...

Also, Probably the sonic buffet would vibrate a human body to pieces, and if not, merely kill the person...

We all need adventurers to do the things we can't afford to do.

20th March, 2012 @ 01:35 am PDT

@MD The article states that Kittinger reached 614mph in his jump from 102,800ft

20th March, 2012 @ 03:22 am PDT

According to this article, he achieved 690mph shortly after jumping.

There was a program on television (don't remember which) that estimated he topped out at around 800mph.

20th March, 2012 @ 09:23 am PDT

Why, with 26 pictures attached to this article, is there not a single one of him actually jumping from 71K feet?

20th March, 2012 @ 09:40 am PDT

What a supreme waste of resources!

20th March, 2012 @ 10:46 am PDT

It isn't a waste of resources at all if you stop looking at this through the eyes of a commoner. Sure it's an absolute thrill if you were the one to jump and set a new record. But the important thing is to learn the effects and the extent of it to a human being who free falls at such height, with a pressurized suit of course. That knowledge will come to use when astronauts need to make an emergency jump at such heights mid flight or return.

Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
20th March, 2012 @ 05:32 pm PDT

26 images and no video? Is gizmag a newspaper?

Greg Beazley
20th March, 2012 @ 05:42 pm PDT

I would be sincerely impressed IF they started from the International Space station and came back through the atmosphere riding in a RED CORVETTE during re-entry , pulled the parachute and drove away , just like in the 1981 animated movie HEAVY METAL !!!

Facebook User
20th March, 2012 @ 05:45 pm PDT

Did Redbull fund all of this? Most likely more tech gone into this as the Apollo missions.....

Looks like Redbull really can give u wings!!

Alien Bob
20th March, 2012 @ 05:51 pm PDT

"In fact he is aiming to break four long established records, starting with world's highest manned balloon flight (120,000 feet or 36,576 meters) highest skydive (currently 102,000 feet ) and the longest freefall, which may well see him break the sound barrier as he plummets for nearly 23 miles (37 km) towards Earth."

So he's going to take a balloon 36,576 meters up, then freefall nearly 37,000 meters down? Is one of his other world records "most widely dispersed skydiver" by any chance?

Marcus Carr
20th March, 2012 @ 08:10 pm PDT

@Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret: "commoner"???? WTF? Are you some member of the intergalactic elitist society or something?

John Grimes
21st March, 2012 @ 10:28 am PDT

By 2029 you will be able to bungee jump from space....

Rick Nice
21st March, 2012 @ 04:20 pm PDT

@ MD,

you might like to check your calculations. To break the sound barrier at 31,300 m i think you will find it is a lot faster that at sea level not slower. The reduced air resistance will result in a much increased speed required to create a sonic boom.

While he will most likely exceed the speed that would be required at sea level to create a sonic boom. His terminal velocity due to air resistance and general lack of aerodynamics will ultimately keep him from going fast enough to create a sonic boom, aside from all the problems associated with his lack of structural rigidity.

21st March, 2012 @ 09:57 pm PDT

I was always in awe of kittinger, he are the coolest nut. As a kid i would imagine the feeling of reentry. I REALLY WOULD LOVE TO DO THIS. RedBull this is some hard stuff well done! Think back to a time when physicians believed that exceeding 30mph would kill a human to actually going almost 800mph! Next we gotta talk free fall from the space station thats how you get space tourism going and even more jobs for the people with the shovels waiting for you on the ground

25th March, 2012 @ 08:10 am PDT

Suggestion for the hands: a flap of medium thick plastic that can be allowed to lay back along the arms, or be discarded, when no longer needed.

Brian Hall
28th March, 2012 @ 05:48 am PDT

True, people typically hit terminal velocity at around 120 mph. However, when you are that high in the sky the air is very, very thin so an object would have to push less air out of the way to fall. Theoretically if someone were to fall from the International Space Station he or she would approach mach 5 before entering the thicker atmosphere that would ultimately slow 'em down to the speeds you're thinking of.

Ethan Johnson
31st March, 2012 @ 08:15 pm PDT
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