Felix Baumgartner Supersonic Skydiver Drops Earth Nearly 128-000 Feet Earth – Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner dropped to Earth from more than 24.5 miles in the air in a historic fall from the edge of space in his attempt to become the world’s first supersonic skydiver.
Baumgartner stepped out of a capsule pulled by a 55-story helium balloon after it had reached the height of 127,718 feet.
As he softly landed on Earth with the help of a parachute about five minutes later, Baumgartner raised his hands in victory.
It wasn’t immediately certain whether he had broken the speed of sound during his free-fall, which was one of the goals of the mission.
Before sunrise the former Austrian paratrooper’s crew began unpacking the 30 million cubic foot helium balloon to hoist the capsule that will carry him 23 miles up in the sky.
The three hour ascent began on Sunday at about 9:30am MDT. The jump was postponed due to wind on Monday, then aborted twice more for the same reason on Tuesady and Thursday. Meteorologists say conditions will finally be favorable for the jump Sunday morning.
Checking through an equipment list from his seat in the pressurized capsule, Baumgartner, 43, expressed concern that his astronaut-like helmet was not heating properly.
‘This is very serious, Joe,’ said Baumgartner as the capsule, designed to remain at 55 degrees Fahrenheit ascended in skies where temperatures were expected to plunge below -91.8 F (-67.8 C), according to the project’s website. ‘Sometimes it’s getting foggy when I exhale. … I do not feel heat.’
Baumgartner was disappointed ‘like the rest of us’ but taking a couple of days of critical downtime, his high-performance athletic trainer, Andy Walshe, said Wednesday.
Team meteorologist Don Day noted during a media briefing at the Roswell launch site that weather delays are common in stratospheric ballooning.
Kittinger is a lead member of Baumgartner’s team, and will be the only member of mission control who will communicate directly with Baumgartner during his nearly three-hour ascent in a pressurized capsule.
Kittinger said his 1960 jump, the first attempt to break the sound barrier, also was delayed by weather. He leapt from a helium balloon-floated, open-air gondola from an altitude of 19.5 miles.
‘I was ready to go and had to wait,’ Kittinger said at the briefing. ‘It’s frustrating. But you have to go through it. What you see is what you get.’
Kittinger reached 614 mph, or Mach 0.9. Baumgartner, a former military parachutist from Austria, hopes to reach 690 mph, or Mach 1 – faster than the speed of sound.
Kittinger also was involved in the Air Force’s Excelsior project, making a series of parachute jumps from helium balloons in the stratosphere in 1959 and 1960. Excelsior was a test bed for the nation’s space program. With one balloon flight, ‘we waited 30 days and we never got it off,’ Kittinger said.
The energy drink maker Red Bull, which is sponsoring the feat, has been promoting a live Internet stream of the event from nearly 30 cameras on the capsule, the ground and a helicopter.
But organizers said there will be a 20-second delay in their broadcast of footage in case of a tragic accident.
After the jump, Baumgartner says he plans to settle down with his girlfriend and fly helicopters on mountain rescue and firefighting missions in the U.S. and Austria.
Baumgartner’s team had hoped to make the launch in the summer, when there is less wind, but was forced to delay it until October because of problems with the capsule.
One of the disappointments of Tuesday’s aborted launch was losing the balloon. The balloons are so fragile that once they are taken out of the box, they cannot be reused. The team has one more balloon. Team members said they are looking for a backup, but that could take four weeks or more.
As he ascended high above the earth, Baumgartner took to Twitter to greet his fans from space.
He tweeted: ‘Live from space! World you are beautiful.’
Art Thompson, the project’s technical director, said there likely would be windows in the weather for making the jump through November, but declined to speculate on long-term plans beyond that.
The jump is being sponsored by energy drink maker Red Bull. The costs have not been disclosed.
But Thompson said on Wednesday the balloons cost several hundred thousand dollars each, and he estimated the team lost $60,000 to $70,000 in helium with the aborted jump.
Weather conditions at the Roswell launch site caused Tuesday’s delay as Baumgartner’s three-hour ascent in a high-altitude balloon cannot start unless ground wind speeds are below two miles an hour.
The record-breaking attempt had been scheduled to begin at 11.30am but the launch was called off at 11.46am local time.
Meteorologists said Wednesday morning should have provide ideal weather conditions for the Austrian as he attempts to become the first human to break the sound barrier unaided by a vehicle.
However, when the Austrian finally entered the capsule just before 11am MDT, the crews discovered that winds 700 feet above the ground, at the top of the balloon, were 20 mph, which was far above the safe limit of 3 mph.
After the flight was postponed for the second time in as many days, some openly wondered whether there was a deliberate attempt by the Red Bull Stratos team to build suspense.
Sources close to Red Bull have allegedly said that the jump was never intended to occur before tomorrow to ensure ‘maximum coverage’ and must take place before 6pm in Europe to hit newspaper deadline times on the continent.
Red Bull Stratos announced on Friday that the jump had been moved from Monday to Tuesday due to a cold front with gusty winds.
The jump can only be made if winds on the ground are under 2 mph for the initial launch.
Wearing only a pressurized suit and a parachute, Baumgartner will pause at the hatch of his tiny capsule as it ascends into the heavens beneath one of the biggest balloons ever made.
No more than 20 minutes later, the world will know whether this audacious Austrian has become the first skydiver to break the sound barrier in the highest, fastest freefall descent in history.
Coincidentally, Sunday also marks the 65th anniversary of U.S. test pilot Chuck Yeager’s successful attempt to become the first man to officially break the sound barrier aboard an airplane.
Dr. Jonathan Clark, Baumgartner’s medical director, has told reporters he expects the pressurized spacesuit to protect him from the shock waves of breaking the sound barrier.
If all goes well and he survives the jump, NASA could certify a new generation of spacesuits for protecting astronauts and provide an escape option from spacecraft at 120,000 feet, he said.
Any contact with the capsule on his exit could tear the pressurized suit. A rip could expose him to a lack of oxygen and temperatures as low as 70 degrees below zero. It could cause potentially lethal bubbles to form in his bodily fluids, a condition known as “boiling blood.”
If anything goes wrong – and there is plenty that could – it might get very, very messy.
The nightmare scenario that Felix’s project director likens to a ‘horror film’ would involve his blood boiling, brain bursting and eyeballs popping out – all of it watched live via the internet around the globe.
This may sound like the sort of lunatic feat that no one but a man who has spent 20 years at the more extreme end of extreme sports would want anything to do with.
But a team of engineers, doctors and pilots have spent five years working alongside Baumgartner, 43, to ensure he gets down alive and in one piece.
For one of them, Dr Jonathan Clark, the operation’s medical director, there is an intensely personal reason for being involved.
Since his astronaut wife Laurel was killed in 2003 when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas, the former Nasa flight surgeon has devoted his career to working to improve astronauts’ chances of surviving a similar high-altitude disaster.
‘I have every expectation he’ll come through this successfully,’ says Dr Clark. ‘But, you know, it is still an unknown.’
As for Baumgartner, quite the Hollywood action man with his rugged good looks and Born To Fly tattooed on his arm, he and his backers are sufficiently confident that they are filming the descent and streaming it on YouTube.
Banishing talk of nerves, he says he would never jump if the odds were against him. And he insists he hasn’t got a death wish.
Of the skeptics who will be holding their hands in front of their eyes as he hurtles towards Earth at nearly 700mph, he says simply: ‘I think they underestimate the skills of a skydiver.’
Fearless Felix has been flinging himself out of planes and off skyscrapers for years.
He has clocked up 2,500 skydiving jumps, including one in which he became the first person to ‘fly’ across the English Channel, with carbon-fibre wings strapped to his back.
He has performed various horrifying ‘base jumps’, freefalling off the Christ statue in Rio and leaping head-first into a pitch black, 620ft-deep cave in Croatia.
Baumgartner says his supersonic plunge will be the end of his ‘journey’ as a daredevil.
He intends to retire with his girlfriend and settle down to a quiet life – which in his case means becoming a rescue helicopter pilot.
Ahead of his grand finale, he has completed a couple of high-altitude dress rehearsals. In July, he leapt from 96,640ft – just 6,000ft shy of a world record set in 1960 by Joe Kittinger, a U.S. air force test pilot.
The grandfather of stratosphere skydiving, 84-year-old Colonel Kittinger has become Baumgartner’s mentor and will be the voice he hears in his headset as he communicates with mission control before and during the jump.
But a disembodied voice will not protect him against some of the most extreme forces in nature.
‘You can feel in your stomach and every part of your body that it does not want to be there,’ says the Austrian, a former military parachutist, laconically.
The body in question will be encased in a specially designed $200,000 spacesuit. It has an insulating exterior that can withstand extreme temperatures, and an airtight inner layer filled with pressurised oxygen.
It also has one crucial difference to the spacesuits worn by astronauts, which is that it remains highly flexible when it is fully pressurised.
Baumgartner’s visor is fitted with an intensely powerful heat regulator that should keep his view free of fog and frost.
The suit’s 12lb chest pack contains monitoring and tracking equipment together with a voice transmitter so he can talk to mission control on the way down. The pack is connected to a device on his wrist that allows him to monitor his speed and altitude.
The capsule in which he’ll make his ascent is 11ft high and 8ft in diameter, made from fibreglass strengthened by an internal metal frame, and weighs as much as a Volkswagen Beetle.
It was designed by some of the scientists who created the U.S. stealth bomber and is based on the famous Nasa Apollo rocket, but with a few key design differences.
The exit hatch is bigger for a start, designed to prevent the sort of catastrophe that befell Soviet high-altitude sky diver Pyotr Dolgov in 1962. Struggling to leave his capsule in his cumbersome spacesuit, Dolgov cracked his visor slightly on the door.
He was dead by the time he landed, a victim of ebullism, the terrifying condition in which the drastically lower air pressure above 62,000ft makes liquids in the body start to bubble and vaporise, inflating the body and bringing unconsciousness within 15 seconds.
Unfortunately for Baumgartner’s sponsor, Red Bull, he won’t be able to consume any of the fizzy energy drink on the way up.
The air pressure inside the capsule will still be significantly lower than at sea level, and any kind of gas inside his body could prove extremely uncomfortable. The Austrian company won’t say how much it has sunk into the project, but it must surely run into millions.
Weather permitting (the balloon material is so flimsy the ground level wind cannot be stronger than 2mph), the launch will take place on a runway in the New Mexico desert.
A ten-strong team wearing cotton gloves and protective suits to prevent them ripping the fabric will pump helium from two large lorries into a $241,000 balloon that has been hailed as the biggest ever to lift a passenger.
When inflated, it is as high as a 55-story building with a volume of 30 million cubic feet.
Made from strengthened plastic, it is a tenth of the thickness of a sandwich bag. Baumgartner has limited space to move around in the capsule and the balloon will be largely steered remotely from mission control down on the ground.
If all goes well, the journey will take just under three hours. The biggest danger he faces on the way up is the risk of the balloon rupturing soon after take-off.
If that happens, Fearless Felix won’t have time to open the hatch and get out, and will come crashing down inside the capsule.
When it reaches the jumping height of 120,000ft three times the altitude at which airliners fly – he will look out on a black rather than blue daytime sky while he waits for the final ‘clear to jump’ message from mission control.
At that point, he will depressurise the capsule, pressurise his suit and open the exit door (the capsule will later automatically detach from the balloon and parachute back to Earth).
It’s a virtually oxygen-free vacuum up there, with just one per cent of the air pressure on Earth, so the consequences of an accident now – a ripped suit (the biggest fear) or hairline helmet crack – would be disastrous, bringing on the dreaded ebullism in seconds.
If that isn’t bad enough, a spacesuit failure could also bring on the bends (gas seeping into body tissues due to sudden low pressure), barotrauma (trapped gas in body cavities that can collapse the lungs), and severe oxygen deprivation, known as anoxia.
And let’s not forget the discomfort of falling through air with a temperature as low as minus 70f.
Even leaving the capsule is fraught with danger. Baumgartner, who will basically fall forwards off the capsule platform, needs to start plunging straight down, head first, as quickly as possible to reach maximum speed.
But there is always a risk that, with virtually no wind at those altitudes, he could end up in an uncontrolled flat spin.
And if he spins too fast, the force will make him lose consciousness, cause brain damage, turn his eyeballs into reddish-purple orbs and – very possibly – kill him.
As a safety precaution of sorts, his clever spacesuit will release a drogue parachute – a miniaturised version of the type used to slow fast-landing jets – to reduce his speed if its monitoring system senses he has lost consciousness.
It will take him just 40 seconds to go from zero to 700mph and break the sound barrier at an altitude of around 100,000ft.
No one can be sure what happens when a body breaks the sound barrier at that height, and the possibility of his suit being damaged by supersonic shock waves is another unpleasant ‘what if’ that Baumgartner’s scientific experts have had to consider.
But once he has gone supersonic, travelling at the speed of a bullet, the air resistance will start to pick up as the atmosphere becomes more dense and he can move himself into the more stable ‘delta’ position – arms and legs spread out, body parallel to the ground – that you normally see being used by skydivers.
Assuming he makes it through intact, Baumgartner, his spacesuit fitted with cameras recording his stomach-churning descent, will freefall for some five-and-a-half minutes before pulling his main parachute at 5,000ft.
Some ten to 15 minutes later, with luck he will touch down near Roswell.
The remote New Mexican town is, of course, famous for a rumored UFO crash landing in 1947.
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