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Red Bull Stratos team gets closer to supersonic freefall attempt

By

July 2, 2010

Felix Baumgartner practicing for his big, big jump

Felix Baumgartner practicing for his big, big jump

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Later this year, Felix Baumgartner will put on a pressurized space suit and helmet, climb into a capsule suspended beneath a balloon, ride 120,000 feet into the earth’s upper atmosphere, then jump out and – before deploying his parachute – try to break the speed of sound while in freefall. That’s the plan, at least, for the insanely-dangerous Red Bull Stratos event. If successful, it will constitute the world’s highest manned balloon flight, highest parachute jump, and fastest and longest freefall. The team conducted three important tests in the last week of May, that they just released the details of this week. What those tests entailed would probably be hair-raising enough to last most of us a lifetime.

The first two tests took place at the Sage Cheshire Aerospace Center in Lancaster, California. There, with the capsule hanging from a crane, Baumgartner practiced his step-off. “We had no idea what’s going to happen to the capsule as he slides the seat forward, climbs out and steps off,” said Aerial Strategist Luke Aikins. “We were worried that if the capsule moved, he wasn’t going to get a good exit, but it’s pretty stationary. So we were able to eliminate those issues.”

The next step involved a space-suited Baumgartner doing bungee jumps from a crane basket suspended 200 feet in the air. The purpose of this test was to let him get a feel for controlling his forward rotation as he stepped off. After several jumps, he appeared to have mastered the technique.

Finally, again in his suit, Felix made a series of high-altitude skydives. Objectives of this test included perfecting his step-off, assessing how different body positions affected controllability, observing how the suit deflated upon descent, and trying out a new chest pack unit that can be moved to one side when Baumgartner needs to spot his landing site. Everything, apparently, went smoothly.

Felix Baumgartner in his custom pressurized space suit and helmet

If the name Felix Baumgartner sounds at all familiar, that’s because he’s the same guy who jumped out of a plane with a set of wings on his back and glided across the English Channel, back in 2003. The Red Bull Stratos team, however, insist that their event isn’t just a stunt. “You’ve got a lot of companies that are vying for the role of being the commercial space transport provider for tourism, for upper atmospheric science, and so on,” said Medical Director Dr. Jonathan Clark . “These systems, particularly during the test and development phase, need a potential escape system, which we may be able to help them provide with the knowledge we gain.”

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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8 Comments

This guy is also nuts!

bio-power jeff
2nd July, 2010 @ 08:45 pm PDT

Lucky dude. How does someone get a chance to do this? Skydiving?

João Afonso Martins
3rd July, 2010 @ 10:50 am PDT

That would be sooooooooooooooooo effin fun...

Facebook User
3rd July, 2010 @ 08:23 pm PDT

This has already been done, like 50 years ago. WTG redbull

Blackburd
4th July, 2010 @ 12:48 pm PDT

the stunt done in the '60s was done by Joseph Kittinger but he only reached peak velocity of 614 mph (988 km/h); the speed of sound is 768 mph (1,236 km/h). WTG Redbull good luck Felix!

adgonzo
5th July, 2010 @ 07:38 am PDT

This just hit the top of my bucket list.

ducati_boy
6th July, 2010 @ 05:48 am PDT

adgonzo, I think you're wrong. Some sources give Joseph Kittinger's maximum speed during free fall as 714 mph. The speed of sound a sea level is, indeed, around 768 mph, depending on temperature and barometric pressure, but it's much less in the near-vacuum of 20 miles above the Earth. Undoubtedly, Kittinger was the first man to exceed the speed of sound without an airplane during his Excelsior III jump on August 16, 1960 when he exited the balloon gondola at 102,800 feet (31,333 meters). The only reason Kittinger's jump record is disputed is that he trailed a small drogue parachute to stabilize him and prevent his body from going into a deadly flat spin, and purists say it wasn't a true "free fall". I understand that Felix Baumgartner wants to attempt the jump to (1) exceed the height of Kittinger's flight and (2) break the sound barrier without a drogue parachute. The first goal isn't particularly dangerous, given the improvements in pressure suit technology, but the second is definitely risky.

Baumgartner's pressure suit was reportedly designed and fabricated by the David Clark Company of Worcester, Massachusetts, a firm with a long history in this field.

Facebook User
11th July, 2010 @ 01:28 pm PDT

I don't care to much about who did what beforehand. THIS GUY is brave.

Nick Rowney
15th July, 2010 @ 06:06 pm PDT
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