Felix Baumgartner ready for freefall from space

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Felix Baumgartner of Austria seen during the bungee test for Red Bull Stratos, a mission to the edge of space to break the speed of sound in freefall, in Lancaster, California, USA on 24 May 2010. Image credit: Sven Hoffmann/Red Bull
Date:7 February 2012 Tags:, , , , ,

Austrian extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner is ready to rise to the challenge of the Mission Red Bull Stratos. His aim is to jump from a balloon in the stratosphere from an altitude of 36 576 metres and perform a record-breaking freefall. – Red Bull

A professional skydiver and BASE jumper, Baumgartner has already set many world records: highest BASE jump from a building, lowest BASE jump, first person to BASE jump from the 343-metre Millau Viaduct in France. He’s even jumped from an aircraft 10 000 metres over Dover on the English coast, so that he could free-fall 35 kilometres across the English Channel wearing a carbon-fibre wing. Now, he’s set his sights on the stratosphere.

The Red Bull Stratos team is making final preparations for their attempt to break Colonel Joe Kittinger’s 52-year-old record, a freefall from 31 333 m during his historic “Excelsior III” project in 1960. Joe Kittinger has been involved as an advisor to the Red Bull Stratos project from the very beginning and serves as a mentor to Baumgartner.

The leap from the edge of space will nevertheless be an entry into a new dimension 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 will attempt to break four records at the same time that have remained unbroken for more than 50 years: the highest manned balloon flight 36 576 metres, the highest skydive, the first person to break the speed of sound during freefall, and the longest freefall (about 5 minutes 30 seconds).

The team will share all its findings and breakthroughs in the areas of aviation and aerospace with the science community around the world. Kittinger’s “Excelsior III” Mission proved to be instrumental in advancing research that led to improvements in safety for people in near space environments as well as improvements in the development of space suits. Mankind’s physical limits will be newly defined on this mission. The team aims to achieve advancements in medical science and contribute to the understanding of survival in space.

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.”

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 gone supersonic 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.”

Art Thompson, an engineer who helped develop the B-2 Stealth bomber, is the Red Bull Stratos technical director. He conducted tests with the team at an altitude (vacuum) chamber at the Brooks City-Base in Texas. They were able to successfully simulate the flight profile of the capsule, life support and flight instrumentation systems to an altitude of 34 442 metres. “The test in the chamber was a decisive moment for us. 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,” said Thompson.

In the simulation test Baumgartner was exposed to the extremely hostile conditions found at that altitude. During the three-hour-long ascent, during which temperatures plunged to minus 70 degrees Celsius, he was able to train on the complex steering of the capsule, his exit strategy and potential emergency situations. “This test was enormously important for our self-confidence. The success has given us an additional boost to rise to the challenges that still lie ahead,” Baumgartner said.

The mission will take place in Roswell because of the favourable conditions. The area is sparsely populated, it has some of the world’s best facilities for balloon launches such as this, and the weather allows several good windows for a successful launch.

This video explains the ins and outs of the Red Bull Stratos project, including the training, the equipment and the safety of space travel (video credit: Red Bull):