The coolest guy in the world right now is Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner, who just set a new record for sky dive altitude – 24+ miles, right at the edge of space – and probably a couple of other records as well, like highest manned balloon flight, and reaching supersonic speed without a vehicle. Imagine falling at over 700 mph!
He did this less than 2 hours ago, as I write this post. I was lucky enough to catch the live feed seconds after he jumped from his balloon-borne capsule, and to watch the whole descent. Which was entirely uneventful, and even a little boring, except for knowing where he jumped from. And the long 3 minutes when he was so high that he appeared as just a small white stick figure speeding against the black. No atmosphere to turn the daytime sky blue, nothing above him but space.
Now let’s get past the crazy daredevil awesomeness of riding a balloon in a capsule to 24 miles high, then jumping out with nothing on but a space suit and a parachute. Because “crazy” is an uninformed perspective.
This jump went off flawlessly, because they did it the way real science is done, with thousands of hours of thought and study and trial and preparation. Felix and his team have been working since 2005 to prepare for this jump, including designing new technologies for the suit and everything else, and executing several practice jumps at altitudes that only one or two others have achieved.
The science applications are extensive, including high altitude and high speed physiology, and developing high altitude escape systems, plus other applications for any technologies developed just for this jump.
The Red Bull Stratos web site has a ton of information about the whole mission and personnel. I’m sure they’ll be posting much more in the coming days, as they review all the mission data.
For a quick summary, BBC has an excellent writeup of the jump, including a link to a highlights video that captures nearly all of it.
Watching this, the first thing I thought of was, “Here’s a way to get people safely out of a space vehicle before it crashes or burns up in the atmosphere.” What new science and new human adventures do you think might follow from here?