Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian skydiver and BASE jumper made history on October 14, 2012, by becoming the first man to free jump from an altitude of 127,852 feet over Roswell, New Mexico. His trip from the stratosphere back to Earth lasted nine minutes and nine seconds, with four minutes and twenty–two seconds of free falling without a parachute. This supersonic free fall was sponsored by Red Bull energy drinks and was dubbed Red Bull Stratos: Mission to the Edge of Space.
With this jump, Baumgartner broke a number of world records, including the record for the highest skydive and the record for fastest estimated speed while falling. Making his descent at a shocking speed of 843.6 mph (Mach 1.24), he also became the first person ever to break the sound barrier without a vehicle. Coincidentally, Baumgartner’s jump occurred exactly 65 years after Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier flying in an experimental rocket–powered airplane.
For the ascent, Baumgartner wore a fully loaded pressurized space suit weighing 260 pounds, including a 12–pound chest pack containing systems for monitoring, tracking and transmitting critical data in real time to mission control. Baumgartner went up in a pressurized balloon capsule that weighed over 2,900 pounds and lifted Baumgartner to space faster than a single–engine airplane, floating him the 120,000 feet of the jump in less than three hours.
Once in the stratosphere Baumgartner waited for the “clear to jump” from mission control, depressurized and then detached his hoses from the capsule. Once done, there was no going back, as Baumgartner had to jump or be forced to make a dangerous emergency landing in the unpressurized capsule with limited oxygen reserves.
Carefully stepping off the capsule’s platform, Baumgartner knew a stable body position was pivotal. With no atmosphere, there was nothing to slow him down—especially perilous if he were to go into an uncontrolled spin, which he actually did for a few perilous seconds after he broke the sound barrier within the first 40 seconds of his jump.
As Baumgartner fell closer to the troposphere, the air molecules multiplied and acted as a gradual brake as he thundered through the sky at supersonic speeds. At 5,000 feet and a speed of 172 mph, Baumgartner deployed his parachute, from which point he took less than six minutes to reach the ground. Once he landed, there were cheers and sighs of relief heard across the world as millions of people watched live broadcasts of the jump.
Though thrilling, this mission was not merely for adventure, as it provided crucial data for scientific understanding of how the human body adapts and copes with extreme conditions near space. The pressurized suit Baumgartner wore was developed and tested specifically for this mission, and the mission’s success means the suit is now validated as being able to keep the human body safe at supersonic speeds while in space. On top of that, new medical procedures were developed for the mission, including a protocol to treat ebullism, a condition where blood can begin to boil due to water vaporization at altitudes above 63,000 feet.
Along with this medical breakthrough, the Red Bull Stratos medical team also developed a treatment protocol in case Baumgartner accidently became exposed to the stratospheric environment. This special type of ventilation system, as Dr. Jonathan Clark, Red Bull Stratos medical director, says, “. . . is already producing tangible results that will allow potential space travelers who are in this danger zone to have a fighting chance if they get exposed to vacuum.”
To commemorate this incredible event, on April 2, 2014, The National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, welcomed Baumgartner and Red Bull Stratos’s historic teamwork into their collection. The pressurized capsule he used to ascend and the pressurized suit he wore on his second test jump were featured at the exhibition, which ran from April 2 to May 26, 2014. Eventually, the balloon gondola and the suit Baumgartner wore during the final, record–breaking jump will be put on permanent display at the Steven F. Udvar–Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.
Did You Know?
The Red Bull corporation is no stranger to extreme events, as every year they sponsor a flugtag (literally translated to “flight day” in German), where fearless men and women launch homemade, human–powered flying machines off a pier into the sea. This event is held yearly across the United States in major cities such as Miami, Long Beach, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth and Washington, DC.