Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian skydiver, performed a challenging test jump on Thursday March 15, 2012.
Felix Baumgartner has the right stuff. He is a well known BASE jumper. B.A.S.E. means Buildings; Aerials; Spans (jumps from bridges); and Earth (jumps from cliffs). He performed numerous stunts such as jumping from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, World Financial Center T101 in Taipei, and the Millau viaduct.
Yesterday’s jump test is just a stage in his attempt to break a new free-fall record. He jumped above Roswell, New Mexico at an altitude of 71,581 feet ie 21.8 kilometers; 13.6 miles; or Flight Level 716. He should then carry out another jump test before leaping again from a capsule lifted by a helium balloon at around 120,000 ft ie 23 miles or 37 km this year, and could become the first man to break the sound barrier while free falling.
This is not a simple leap in the sky. People may not understand how dangerous skydiving at such heights is. The air density is so low that it cannot brake movements as drag becomes poorer up there.
Therefore, a position mistake can make the human body tumble violently or spin very fast. High rotation speeds involve high-G forces due to the centrifugal force, and may lead to G-LOC (G-force induced Loss Of Consciousness), and even to the rupture of blood vessels.
Moreover, if a spacesuit were to leak (due to a dormant seal failure or a cracked/crazed faceplate, for instance), the blood could be boiling (ebullism at 37°C above 63,000 ft or 19 km) because of the very low air pressure, and the body could be swelling, and actually freezing to death as the external temperature can reach down to -70°C, and even lower, not to mention the risk of pulmonary barotrauma.
The current record is held by Joseph Kittinger (a former USAF pilot who is curently advising Felix Baumgartner on his project) who jumped from 102,800 feet in 1960. He temporarily lost the use of his hand which got twice as big as a glove seal was leaking during the final part of the ascent. With this test jump, Felix Baumgartner already belongs to the highest three skydivers along with Joe Kittinger, and Russian Eugene Andreev who performed the longest parachute jump from 83,523 feet (25.5 km).
The following video shows that this feat is not only a matter of pushing limits as researchers are working on this Red Bull Stratos project to prepare flight safety of the future spacecraft: