Together with a team of aerospace experts, Austrian pilot Felix Baumgartner is ready to rise to the challenge of the Red Bull Stratos mission. His aim is to jump from a capsule lifted by a balloon at an altitude of 120,000 feet and perform a record-breaking freefall.
Baumgartner wants to become the first person to break the speed of sound without the protection of an aircraft while simultaneously collecting data never before obtained for the advancement of medical science. After testing in one of the nation’s largest pressure chambers in San Antonio, Texas, the mission has moved on to the next phase in Roswell, New Mexico: going airborne.
The Red Bull Stratos team is making final preparations for their attempt to break Colonel Joe Kittinger’s nearly 52-year-old record, a freefall from 102,800 feet during his historic “Excelsior III” project in 1960, which delivered valuable research and equipment developments that laid the foundation for the first space shuttle missions of the late 1960s. Joe Kittinger has been involved as an advisor to the Red Bull Stratos project since 2009 and serves as a mentor to the 41-year-old Austrian pilot.
Felix Baumgartner has already broken records with B.A.S.E jumps in some of the world’s most spectacular locations, such as the World Financial Center T101 in Taipei, one of the world’s tallest buildings. He also did one of the lowest B.A.S.E. jumps ever when he leapt from the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. In 2003, he used carbon wings attached to his body to become the first man to skydive across the English Channel.
Never before has anyone reached the speed of sound without being in an aircraft.
The leap from the edge of space will nevertheless be a new dimension of human flight even for Baumgartner. It is a step into the unknown. A team of leading technicians and scientists has spent the past five years developing the equipment and safety protocols necessary to assure the safe completion of the mission.
Red Bull Stratos medical director Dr. Jonathan Clark, who was the crew surgeon for six Space Shuttle flights, wants to explore the effects of acceleration to supersonic velocity on humans: “We’ll be setting new standards for aviation. Never before has anyone reached the speed of sound without being in an aircraft. Red Bull Stratos is testing new equipment and developing the procedures for inhabiting such high altitudes as well as enduring such extreme acceleration. The aim is to improve the safety for space professionals as well as potential space tourists.”
For Baumgartner, this project is much more than merely attempting to break another record.
“This mission is all about pioneer work. Maybe one day people will look back and say it was Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos team that helped to develop the suit that they’re wearing in space. We want to do something for posterity.”
Baumgartner will attempt to break four records at the same time that have remained unbroken for more than 50 years.
Art Thompson, an engineer who helped develop the B-2 Stealth bomber and who serves as Red Bull Stratos technical director, conducted tests with the team at an altitude chamber at the Brooks City-Base in San Antonio, Texas in late 2011. The team was able to successfully simulate the entire flight of the capsule, life support and flight instrumentation systems in a flight profile to 113,000 feet inside of the altitude chamber.
“The test in the chamber was a decisive moment for us," said Thompson. "It’s as close as you can get to the near space conditions without leaving earth. We were able to verify our equipment and now we’re moving on to plan the first manned test flights.”
On the Record
Baumgartner will attempt to break four records at the same time that have remained unbroken for more than 50 years: the highest manned balloon flight 120,000 feet, the highest skydive, the first person to break the the speed of sound during freefall, and the longest freefall (estimated to be around 5 minutes 30 seconds).
An exclusive, all-access documentary about the Red Bull Stratos project is being produced by the BBC together with National Geographic. The feature-length film will premiere on the BBC in the UK and National Geographic Channel in the US following the jump. It will be aired across the rest of the world soon after.
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