Austrian skydiver aims to break record

Tamim Elyan
5 Min Read

CAIRO: When he makes that 120,000-foot leap out of his balloon next April, Austrian Skydiver Felix Baumgartner will be the first man to free-fall at supersonic speed equivalent to 690 mph as part of Red Bull Stratos adventure.

If he succeeds, Baumgartner will also break United States Air Force Colonel Joseph Kittinger’s record of 102,800 feet that was set 50 years ago.

There were several other attempts between Baumgartner and Kittinger – some of whom didn’t make it alive.

Baumgartner may also break the record of the highest manned balloon flight altitude once he reaches the target altitude of 120,000 feet and the longest freefall duration; approximately 5 minutes and 35 seconds before his main parachute deploys.

But it’s not all about breaking records; Baumgartner’s unprecedented attempt may help scientists understand the limitations of the human body as well as gather valuable scientific and medical data for future aeronautics research.

Kittinger’s jump was meant to help scientists test whether humans can survive extreme conditions at the upper atmosphere as part of the US space program.

Kittinger’s first jump, labeled “Project Manhigh, used manned balloon flights to explore the upper reaches of the atmosphere, gathering data in human physiology and psychology, capsule design, aerodynamics, cosmic radiation, meteorology and astronaut training, while his second, called “Project Excelsior, tested whether pilots could survive high-altitude bailouts.

Since “Project Excelsior, Kittinger has held the record for the highest manned ball balloon flight (102,800 feet), fastest freefall (614 mph), longest free fall (4 minutes, 36 seconds) and highest Parachute jump (102,800 feet).

This won’t be Baumgartner’s first bold attempt at breaking records. In 2003 he became the first man to cross the English Channel with a carbon wing; he has been also breaking records in BASE jumping, parachuting from a fixed object or landform, after a long career in skydiving.

Helping Baumgartner accomplish his beyond-limits mission is an exceptional team of scientists and experts who are the best in aeronautics, avionics, life support, medicine, physical chemistry and physiology.

Art Thompson is the technical project director who assembled the rest of the team and heads key areas of technical development such as the capsule creation and chamber tests.

The team includes Kittinger himself as an advisor and the Mission Control Center’s primary point of contact (Capcom 1) with Felix.

Luke Aikins, a professional skydiver with more than 13,000 jumps, will serve as an aerial strategist and skydiving consultant; Jonathan B. Clark, formerly a crew surgeon for six space shuttle missions, will be the Red Bull Stratos medical director focusing on neurological effects and crew survival.

Launch Director Ricardo Varela Correa will work on guiding the mission team to prepare the flight train, inflate the balloon and safely launch the balloon envelope and capsule; while Human Systems Interface Engineer Bill Dodson is leading the design and development of the capsule, ensuring that it will protect Baumgartner and the mission’s research equipment.

Einar Enevoldson will serve as Flight Operations, Capcom II, planning the ground and flight tests, and he will thoroughly analyze the final results when the mission is completed.

Ensuring that the launch crew is ready and that conditions are acceptable for ascent will be the task of Tim Lachenmeier, balloon flight operations and coordinator/flight director, as he oversees all aspects of balloon flight operations, including planning; design; balloon and flight train fabrication and procurement; flight operations; analysis; and clearances, authorizations and certifications

Vance McClure, physical chemistry analyst, will be working to solve the thermodynamic problems posed by Baumgartner’s mission as he manages the capsule, the pressure suit, and their gas and power supply systems.

When Baumgartner completes the mission, data analysis of Andrew Pilmanis, mission physiologist, will help inform the next generation of pilots and astronauts. Mike Todd, life support engineer, will act as a primary advisor and liaison for the Red Bull Stratos team engineers and pressure suit manufacturer David Clark Company will ensure that the suit design and all mission equipment integrate flawlessly.

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