Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Jump From the Edge of Space

On October 14th 2012, history was made by a 43 year old Austrian BASE Jumper by the name of Felix Baumgartner, after he ascended to a height of 128,097 feet above the Earth in a capsule suspended by a helium balloon- and then jumped!

"Sometimes you have to go up really high, to understand how small you are."
This is all part of the Red Bull Stratos Project, an idea which is over seven years in the making, in which Baumgartner and Red Bull hoped to send him to an altitude of 120,000 feet, jump out of his capsule, and break the speed of sound in the process. The aim was also to test out the next-generation space suit which will be worn by future astronauts in case they need to bail out from their spacecraft at high altitudes. However, Felix is no stranger to death-defying stunts like this. The man is a world renowned BASE jumper, which basically means he jumps off of tall buildings (such as the Petronas Towers, Taipei 101 and the Christ the Redeemer Statue) for a living! Back in 2003, he glided across the English Channel with a set of Carbon-fiber wings on his back, in a little over 6 minutes! 

Felix and Red Bull approached the current record holder for the highest jump made as they saw that this would be of huge assistance to the project. The man who made this jump was Colonel Joe Kittinger of the US Air Force. Colonel Joe ascended in his own helium balloon to a height of 102,800 feet- once again, to test out a new space suit back in 1960. We must remember though that when Kittinger made his jump, man had never flown in space yet, so this jump was both a mystery(because man had never before travelled to this height before) and important to say the least! Kittinger keenly obliged!

This jump has been years in the making, with the mission encountering setback after setback through the years. Perhaps if it were not for the determination of Felix and his team, the Red Bull Stratos Project would be a total flop! A launch date was finally set for October 9th, but high, gusty winds meant that the mission would have to be delayed. A new date of October 14th was slated to be the day that Felix would make history. Then, at 4:30pm Irish time, the balloon was released and Felix was on his way to the edge of space- not a bad way to spend your Sunday afternoon it has to be said! Just over two hours later, Felix stepped out of his capsule, said a few short but muffled words, and gave a final salute, before plummeting down towards the Earth below. After a minute of freefall, Baumgartner was travelling supersonic, becoming the fastest man to travel without the use of a vehicle such as a car or plane. The fall just so happened to take place on the same day that the great Chuck Yeager made man's first ever supersonic flight in his famous Bell X1 aircraft- 65 years ago. Felix fell without a parachute for a total of 4 minutes and 20 seconds, and set foot back on Earth just over nine minutes after leaving his pressurised capsule. The mission was a total success!

Although it may be some time before the true benefits of Felix's jump come to light(as NASA isn't planning to send astronauts into space until at least 2014), we do know one thing though. We now know that when given the correct physical and mental preparation, man can do just about anything, and the word impossible just doesn't exist anymore!