By Jason Heaton
on 9.28.12
Photo by Red Bull

Update: If you missed it amid a weekend of heavy boozing and/or sleep, Felix Baumgartner successfully jumped from more than 24 miles above the earth Sunday, breaking the world record highest jump set by Joe Kittinger. His leap was more than just a stunt, though — the experiment, sponsored by Red Bull, was also testing the effects of an astronaut bailout high in the atmosphere. Keep reading for an overview of the mission that Baumgartner and Red Bull aspired to — and accomplished.

If this age of emasculated NASA and pilot-less drones has convinced you that the era of test pilots and space exploration is over, think again. While the Mars Rover’s images were thrilling, let’s face it: robots don’t exactly possess The Right Stuff. But daredevil Felix Baumgartner does. 65 years after Chuck Yeager pierced the sky over the Californian high desert as the first man to reach Mach 1, Baumgartner is intending to do it again. Only this time he’ll be doing it outside of an airplane, by skydiving from the edge of space.

Read more about Baumgartner’s jump after the jump.

Baumgartner is the solo pilot in an ambitious endeavor called the Red Bull Stratos, which is sponsored by the Austrian energy drink maker as well as the Zenith watch company. The project, which has been in the works for several years, aims to conduct research on the logistics of a spacecraft bailout at 120,000 feet — setting a fistful of world records in the process. The Stratos project team includes engineers, life support experts, physicians and none other than Colonel Joe Kittinger, the man who set the current skydive altitude record when he jumped out of a balloon gondola at 102,000 feet way back in 1960.




Baumgartner, an Austrian, is a famous skydiver and BASE jumper who — ironically — set the world record for the lowest BASE jump when he leapt off the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. He has also skydived from Malaysia’s Petronas Tower, across the English Channel and in to a cave in Croatia. In short, he’s the perfect man for the Red Bull Stratos. He will ascend to his jump height of 120,000 feet in a pressurized helium balloon gondola, at which point he will jump out wearing a full space suit and try to maintain control while free falling in the thin upper atmosphere. The risks are huge (boiled blood, a snapped neck), but if he succeeds, he’ll become the first person to break the sound barrier outside of an aircraft. It will also be the highest parachute jump in history.

The original launch date was back in July, but the gondola was damaged in a hard landing on a prior practice jump, postponing the record-breaking jump. Now, weather permitting, Baumgartner will make his leap October 8th in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico. Once again, a pilot will be pushing the outside of the envelope above the desert in the American Southwest. Godspeed, Felix Baumgartner.

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