All the way back in January 2010 I wrote about the upcoming attempt by Red Bull to jump from space and now the day is finally upon us. Tomorrow, October 9, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner plans to ride a balloon to the edge of space. Then, after reaching 120,000 feet, he’ll jump. His reward? Five minutes of free fall, speeds in excess of the speed of sound and four new world records: the highest skydive, the longest free fall, the first to reach supersonic speeds in free fall, and the highest manned balloon ride.
Things will get going tomorrow at 6 AM in Roswell, New Mexico, when Baumgartner will hop into his balloon and begin his ascent. The ascent will take about three hours and then he will open the capsule and jump. He will free fall for about 5 minutes from 120,000 feet until he reaches 5,000 feet at which point he will open his parachute. The event will be broadcast live by Discovery News and Velocity.
The Stratos project team includes a slew of engineers, life support experts, physicians and the only man with real experience in jumping from the edge, Colonel Joe Kittinger, who jumped out of a balloon gondola at 102,000 feet in 1960.
A 36-pound spacesuit is all that separates him from a hostile world that would boil his blood is given the chance and freeze his flesh. If the suit were to fail exposure could lead to ebullism, a lethal condition caused by gas bubbles escaping into the bloodstream. Another concern is that if Baumgartner’s head-first position is compromised during the jump, aerodynamic heating could break his suit.
One of the biggest dangers of all is a flat spin which can knock out the toughest of skydivers. It is the exact thing that nearly killed Kittinger during one of his project Excelsior space jumps, the centrifugal force was so great that he couldn’t pull his arms in to control it, this caused Kittinger to lose consciousness, but his life was saved by his main parachute which opened automatically at a height of 10,000 feet. A special drogue chute will deploy from Baumgartner’s spacesuit and help stabilize him if he enters an uncontrollable spin.
If Baumgartner endures the risky balloon ride and supersonic free-fall, he’ll be left to do what he does best: pull the ripcord and parachute to the ground.