Exactly 65 years to the day after American test pilot Chuck Yeager became the first person ever to break through the sound barrier in an aircraft, Red Bull Stratos had liftoff following five years of testing and preparations.
On October 14, 2012, 43-year-old Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner became the first person to break the sound barrier without the protection or propulsion of an aircraft, reaching, according to preliminary figures, 833.9 mph, or Mach 1.24, setting the record for the highest manned balloon flight and the highest jump (128,100 feet), as well as the longest distance in free fall (119,846 feet). At 4 minutes, 22 seconds, he missed out on breaking Joe Kittinger’s 1960 record for the longest free fall by 14 seconds. (You could say that Baumgartner was just too fast and descended too quickly.)
But even more than setting records, even more than providing scientific data, Red Bull Stratos was about inspiring people to attempt something great, to pose the question: What lies beyond the horizon?
You couldn’t put it more philosophically than Baumgartner did standing on the step of his capsule: “Sometimes you have to reach great heights to realize how small you are.”
We now go to our man in the stratosphere. In an exclusive for The Red Bulletin, Baumgartner shares his diary from the days that made him a true hero of our time.
12:16, Sunday, October 14, 2012
Down To Earth: A euphoric Felix Baumgartner sinks to his knees in celebration shortly after executing a perfect landing in the scrubland of New Mexico.
17:00, Wednesday, October 10, 2012
FELIX: “Obviously I worked hard on getting myself in top physical form for the Red Bull Stratos project. Basic endurance, strength, power endurance -- the whole gamut. I knew that I had to perform well not only during those few minutes of free fall, but also during the long, hard days leading up to it. I had to prepare myself for this as best I possibly could.”
Andy Walshe (High Performance Director of Red Bull Stratos.): “In the days leading up to the launch I really put Felix through his paces in the gym. Then the day before I only had him do a light cardio workout.”
18:00, Friday, October 12, 2012
FELIX: “I got to know Klaus during the shooting of an ad in Leogang [Austria], and the chemistry was good right from the start. He is much more than a massage therapist for me. He just lays hands on me and feels how I’m doing; he knows what he has to do to get the maximum out of me. Klaus understands the body as a whole -- he sees what my energy reserves are doing. I had to persuade him to come to Roswell with me because he shies away from the limelight. But it was important to have him with me in this decisive phase.”
Klaus Hammerle (masseur and naturopath.): “Before the jump, Felix’s energy levels were at the maximum level, you could even see it in his face. Only very few people are able to build up such an exacting power and focus.”
10:00, Saturday, October 13, 2012
FELIX: “My whole family was there. My girlfriend Nici, who you see here enjoying her morning coffee, my mother, father, brother, and my closest friends. For some, this was their first time in the U.S., and I think it was unforgettable for all of them. I wanted to have the most important people in my life around me for the most important project of my career. That was very important.”
02:40, Sunday, October 14, 2012
FELIX: “Not easy to sleep the night before. I got up just after two in the morning, drank a strawberry smoothie, and drove out to the airfield. After winds foiled our attempt last Tuesday, we’re hoping for better conditions this time. Don Day, Joe Kittinger, Art Thompson, and Andy Walshe [left to right above] will run through everything again with me today before it gets real serious. At 03:10 I’ll climb into the capsule again, alone and in civvies, to quietly go through the most critical procedures once more.”
05:18, Sunday, October 14, 2012
FELIX: “I put on my pressure suit for the final time, then I pre-breathe pure oxygen to purge nitrogen out of my blood. While I’m doing this, the balloon is spread out on the airfield and connected to the pressure capsule via the flight train. At exactly 07:04 Andy Walshe opens the door of the trailer. The sun has bathed the horizon to the east of Roswell in a crimson glow. No sign of wind. Today is a glorious day.”
07:07, Sunday, October 14, 2012
FELIX: “A forklift lifts Mike Todd and me up to the capsule. Mike straps me into the seat. There is a meticulous protocol for everything and we must follow it exactly. Everything is okay. Now we just have to wait for the meteorologist, Don Day, to give the go-ahead to inflate the balloon. Inflation could take up to one-and-a-half hours. So that I don’t start to sweat, cool air is blown through a hose into the capsule. But I find I get too cold, so I instruct my team to remove the hose.”
09:00, Sunday, October 14, 2012
FELIX: “At precisely 08:44 the command is given to fill the balloon. Helium now flows into the gigantic envelope that will transport me into the stratosphere. We were here at this very point five days ago. On October 9, the wind gusted at the height of the sensitive top of the balloon, which forced us to abandon the launch. The wind had started to twist the balloon envelope, making a safe start impossible; the balloon was lost. I couldn’t believe it. I had to really pull myself together and use every bit of professionalism I had to deal with the shock. This one here is our last balloon. But all is going well today.”
09:31, Sunday, October 14, 2012
FELIX: “Takeoff! This is the moment we have worked toward all these years. You can’t see what’s happening from inside the capsule. You just hope your team is doing everything right.”
Don Day (Chief Meteorologist of Red Bull Stratos): “We learned from the aborted launch that we have to be even more precise, we must work even faster and get Felix airborne earlier in the morning. My calculations had given us a 20-minute window on October 14, between 09:20 and 09:40. The balloon crew chief, Ed Coca, issued clearance for takeoff right in the middle of this. It was a perfect start.”
09:40, Sunday, October 14, 2012
FELIX: “The first minutes of flight are the most critical. At low altitude I wouldn’t have the chance to exit the capsule with a parachute in case something went wrong. Looking at the images, I really notice just how thin and small the balloon looks near the Earth, while in the stratosphere it looks round and full because of the low ambient pressure. You could use this in teaching physics as an example to explain how atmospheric pressure works.”
11:31, Sunday, October 14, 2012
FELIX: “We have a problem. A major problem. It seems the heating in the face plate of my visor is not working. My breath is condensing inside. If you’ve ever experienced fogged-up ski goggles on a black-diamond run, you might get an idea what that would mean for a supersonic free fall from the stratosphere -- in a pressure suit, to boot. We’re on the brink of canceling the mission. Joe Kittinger [Red Bull Stratos Flight Operations and Safety, Capsule Communications] decides to cut the audio feed from live so that we can discuss the situation openly and directly.”
11:45, Sunday, October 14, 2012
Art Thompson (Technical Project Director of Red Bull Stratos.): “We instructed Felix to disconnect the visor heating from the circuit of the capsule and to try connecting it to the power supply of the chest pack, which also takes over the supply during free fall. On the Mission Control cameras we could see that the heating was now working. Still, we left the decision to Felix whether he wanted to jump under these circumstances.”
Mike Todd: “We had never experienced a problem with the visor heating. In the stratosphere even the smallest things turn into problems that could terminate the mission.”
Felix: “I decided to jump, despite a potential problem with the visor heating. The decision proved to be the right one. I wanted to go through with this. And the alternative -- descending in the capsule -- was not very enticing.”
12:07, Sunday, October 14, 2012
FELIX: “It’s hard to put into words what you feel at that moment. Obviously, you’ve visualized this moment a thousand times, but nothing can prepare you for the sheer magnitude of it. When the sky above you is pitch black, you can see the curve of the Earth, and you think to yourself: ‘I have arrived.’ You have finally reached the point which you have been working toward for so long. It is a moment you’ll never have again.
Never before had a man been up so high, protected only by a pressure suit. ‘Come Up and Get Me’ is the cheeky title of Joe Kittinger’s biography. It is a privilege to be allowed up here. “The universe fills me with great humility and an awareness of how small we really are. ‘I’m coming home,’ I say before I jump, and it matches completely what I’m feeling right at this moment. I’m at the furthest point of my journey. From now on I’m homeward bound -- metaphorically and literally. “The jump is flawless. For the first 34 seconds my fall is perfect. Then the big tumble dryer in the sky turns on.”
12:07, Sunday, October 14, 2012
FELIX: “I try to hold my position. I don’t feel anything -- no indications, no noise. There is only nothingness. I don’t even feel how fast I’m falling; there are simply no reference points. I may have already broken the sound barrier, but, of course, I can’t hear. I’m traveling faster than sound. Part of the rescue crew waiting close to my calculated landing spot, former CIA men and firefighters, tell me later that they heard two bangs. The first when I entered supersonic range; the second when I slowed down to subsonic again in the denser air masses.”
12:07, Sunday, October 14, 2012
FELIX: “Now it really gets going. Massively! I rotate uncontrollably over all three body axes. It’s the infamous flat spin that I’d been warned about. I have to get this under control quickly before I black out from too much blood being pressed into my head. Stretching your arms out only makes the situation worse.
I pin my arms to my sides, get my head low and manage to assume a controlled position again. I’d practiced this with Luke Aikins. After 40 seconds of uncontrolled spinning I take a safe free-fall position and deploy my parachute -- as planned -- at an altitude of 1,585 m [5,200 feet] above ground level.”
12:16, Sunday, October 14, 2012
FELIX: “The landing is perfect. The crew gives me a signal via radio of the wind direction so that I can steer my parachute accordingly. At just 3.4G, the landing is the softest I’ve done in the pressure suit.”
Jon Clark (Medical Director of Red Bull Stratos.): “We survived. This is the most decisive thing from a medical point of view. We were up higher and fell faster than we had anticipated. Felix was in space, and just like an astronaut, he lost control of his position for several seconds. He got into this spin -- just as we had predicted -- and he survived.
We’ve shown that this is possible. You cannot overstate Felix’s achievements, and the records will very possibly remain intact longer than those of Joe Kittinger.”
13:00 Sunday, October 14, 2012
FELIX: “It’s done. I landed safely and I survived. The Red Bull Stratos project was a success. I can’t help but fall to my knees and raise my hands to the sky. I know that Joe Kittinger and the team prayed for me earlier and asked the guardian angels to watch out for me. But I was up in their realm anyway.
Mike Todd and the rescue crew were the first to race up to me. During the last few months, Mike was like a mother to me. He was the one who dressed me, he was the last to leave me in the capsule and the first to welcome me back onto solid ground.
“We fall into each other’s arms. A helicopter brings us back to Mission Control. There is Art Thompson, there is Joe Kittinger, there is my team. I’m overwhelmed. I have returned to Earth.”
Art Thompson: “The scientific data that we have collected with the Red Bull Stratos project include Felix’s complete biometric values, subsonic to transonic to supersonic and back again. These data are of interest to medical practitioners and will help to develop future treatments for accidents in the supersonic range. The load values of suit, helmet, gloves, and parachute will make equipment safer in the future. We are the first to collate such data.
“The U.S. Air Force, NASA, and private companies have already asked if they can have access to our data. They are all interested in what happens when you exit at such high altitudes. It will take some time to analyze the data from the flat spin and to deduce an exact pattern of how people with less skydiving experience than Felix can survive a fall from such a great height.”
13:47 Sunday, October 14, 2012
FELIX: “My team. Red Bull Stratos was teamwork. Even though I’m now standing in the limelight, it was all of us who turned an idea into a project and a project into a success. Even if there were recurring problems during the five years of working toward this goal, we overcame them. Joe Kittinger said at the debrief meeting that the Red Bull Stratos crew were the best he has ever worked with. I couldn’t put it better myself.”
Check out the December 2012 issue of Red Bulletin magazine (on newsstands November 13) for more articles. To read the magazine on your iPad, download the Red Bulletin iPad app.