Theodore's World: Skydiving from 120,000 Feet

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March 12, 2010

Skydiving from 120,000 Feet

Felix Baumgartne, skydiving expert and test to jump pilot, discusses his attempt to break the record for highest skydive.


Record-Breaking Skydive This Year Will Include First Supersonic Free Fall

The Red Bull Stratos mission endeavors to shatter many long-held records in parachuting and balloon aviation

Scientific American

A privately funded team will attempt this year to break a 50-year-old record for the highest-altitude parachute jump, floating a balloon well into the stratosphere before its pilot leaps out for a supersonic free fall.

If all goes as planned, a towering helium balloon will loft Austrian-born skydiver and BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner, 40, roughly 37 kilometers into the air before he begins his descent. (BASE stands for "buildings, antennas, spans, Earth"—the places and structures from which a BASE parachutist jumps.) Baumgartner could set new records for the highest manned balloon flight and the longest free fall as well as become the first person to break the sound barrier without a protective craft. Baumgartner said he would exceed the speed of sound within about 35 seconds of free fall but would not pull his chute for another five minutes.

"It's human nature to want to go faster, farther," said Joe Kittinger, 81, the retired U.S. Air Force pilot who made the highest jump on record in 1960, parachuting from a balloon 31 kilometers above Earth's surface. Kittinger is the Stratos mission's capcom (short for capsule communicator), which means that he will be the voice in Baumgartner's helmet. Kittinger's advice to his successor: "Have fun, enjoy it, and tell us all about it when you get down."

Baumgartner, who called Kittinger a "childhood hero," is perhaps best known for gliding across the English Channel in 2003 with a carbon-fiber wing strapped to his back. Baumgartner said that jump, from about 10 kilometers, is his highest to date. The Stratos mission is incremental, with two lower-altitude jumps set to precede the final attempt; even the first jump, from roughly 20 kilometers, would double Baumgartner's personal altitude record.

The Stratos team claimed that Baumgartner's jump will be more than a dangerous stunt—Kittinger said that the collection of physiological data is central to the mission. Medical director Jonathan Clark noted that Kittinger's 1960 jump as part of the Air Force's Project Excelsior was in some ways a precursor to manned U.S. space missions, which began the next year. Similarly, Clark said, investigating the effects of a high-altitude bailout could benefit the fledgling commercial spaceflight industry.


News online

The current record has stood for 50 years and his held by Joseph Kittinger, a retired United States Air Force Colonel. It was set on 16 August 1960 and stands at 102,800 feet.

Felix Baumgartner otherwise known as “Fearless Felix” or “God of the Skies” is a renowned skydiver who has become known for his high adrenalin stunts and BASE jumping. Some of his feats include BASE jumping from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; landing on top of the Turning Torso building in Malmö, Sweden, only to then BASE jump off it! Now thats one creative way around all the security!

Felix also became the first person to cross the English Channel in free-fall, by using a carbon-fibre wing to fly. He jumped from 32,000 feet and used the altitude to get himself across to France.

The Red Bull Stratos project has collected some of the leading specialists in aerospace, medicine and engineering to ensure the success of the record attempt. They will use a stratospheric balloon to carry Felix to the edge of space, 120,000ft.

He will also attempt to become the first human to break the speed of sound during his free fall, getting up to Mach 1.0 (about 690 mph or 1,070 km/h). In comparison, during a normal jump a skydiver reaches a top speed of about 120 mph (190 km/h) during free fall in a standard belly down position.

The current record for speed during free fall, is held by Col. Joseph Kittinger is 614 mph (equivalent to Mach 0.9 or 980 km/h).

If successful, Fearless Felix will also hold the record for the highest manned balloon flight. The current record of 113,740ft, was established on May 4, 1961, and is held by Lt. Cdr. Victor A. Prather, Jr., and Cdr. Malcolm Ross.

And yet another record would be the longest free fall duration, which would most likely be approximately 5 minutes and 35 seconds before his main parachute deploys. The current record is 4 min and 36 secs, held by Col. Joseph Kittinger on the same record breaking jump 50 years ago.

The original record jump was done to collect useful medical and scientific data for the American space program. Now 50 years later Felix’s jump will also be used to collect useful scientific information, especially the next generation of full pressure suits. Perhaps with this research, we could bring astronauts back to earth safely on their own.

50 years is a long time for a record to stand. There have been many attempts, some even ending in the loss of life. The most recent was made by the Frenchman Michel Fournier in 2008, who planned for years and then watched helplessly as his balloon broke free, before he could get aboard and climbed into the stratosphere without him


Wild Thing's comment........

Wow! This is fascinating.

Posted by Wild Thing at March 12, 2010 06:45 AM