This year, Felix Baumgartner’s will attempt a freefall from 120,000 feet and will also attempt to break the speed of sound with nothing but a space suit.
In the hostile stratospheric environment Felix plans to traverse, hazards include temperatures as cold as minus 56 degrees Celsius; an environment with too little oxygen to sustain human life; and air pressure so low that decompression sickness and embolism. During his ascent beneath a 30-million-cubic-foot polyethylene balloon filled with helium, Felix will depend on a sealed capsule to provide a pressurized environment; but once he depressurizes the vessel and opens the door to step off, his full-pressure suit and helmet – what engineers call a “Pilot Protective Assembly,” or PPA – will be his only life-support system until he reaches the safety of the lower atmosphere.
Pretty impressive. While this is a record-setting attempt, the first man to do it faced more unknowns. Colonel Joseph Kittinger’s first attempt was a near-disaster when an equipment malfunction caused him to lose consciousness. His automatic parachute opener in his equipment saved his life after he went into a flat spin rotating at 120 rpm sustaining 22 g’s. Kittinger’s final jump was at 102,800 feet reaching 614 mph. ). Pressurization for his right glove malfunctioned during the ascent, and his right hand swelled to twice its normal size.
That’s not all
After Kittinger’s efforts to help the USAF understand high altitude bailouts, he later served three combat tours of duty during the Vietnam War, flying a total of 483 missions. He was shot down while flying an F-4 with the Triple Nickel squadron and later spent 11 months as a prisoners of war in the “Hanoi Hilton”.
Mr. Baumgarner’s attempt is phenomenal and will no doubt gather a good deal of PR for Red Bull. Col. Kittinger’s didn’t get endorsements although his contributions were crucial to the early days of the space program . While his record-setting days are over, he never stopped flying. No doubt he’ll become a little more famous as the new record breaking attempt gets underway.