Man has never crossed the sound barrier outside of an aircraft, and Austrian extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner--holder of several records for jumping off of very tall things--has wanted to be the first for several years now. And he finally might get his chance in 2012. After being set back by a lawsuit, the Red Bull Stratos initiative is back on track, which means Baumgartner could make the world's highest skydive jump from 120,000 feet as soon as August of this year.
Jumping from that altitude is extremely challenging of course. The current jump record is held by former Air Force pilot Joe Kittinger, who jumped from nearly 103,000 feet in 1960, back when we were still trying to figure out just how high the human body could go. Others have failed to break Kittinger's record. One person has died trying. It's cold up there, there's not a lot of air to breathe, and air pressures are significantly lower than at sea level. Biologically speaking, man was not designed to fly this high.
As such, Baumgartner will make the ride up to 120,000 in a custom-built pressurized capsule tethered to a 600-foot-wide balloon. A special pressurized suit, similar to a space suit, will protect him from the conditions outside once the door comes open and Baumgartner takes the plunge. About 35 seconds after he jumps, he'll break the sound barrier. Then he'll continue to fall for another five minutes, pulling his parachute about a mile from the ground.
Records bested would include the highest skydive, the highest manned balloon ride, and the longest free fall ever recorded. Or they might include highest manned balloon disaster and worst idea ever. We'll just have to wait and see. Regardless, the team should learn quite a bit about high altitude pressure suits, which could in turn inform the designs of future space suits.
How high until you have to worry about becoming a meteorite flaming in the sky? Could you start out of Earths atmosphere?
At what point does it stop being "sky diving" and becoming "atmospheric reentry"?
I would love to do something like this! I have wanted to since before the latest Star Trek movie, and even more so since I watched the movie.
He should bring a rocket powered surf board with him.
Strictly speaking, there have been several ejections from aircraft at supersonic speeds, up to Mach 3 (SR-71 and MIG-25, for example), so humans have been outside of an aircraft at speeds above Mach 1. I guess the point was to go from near zero airspeed and then accelerate to past Mach 1.
I wonder what the purpose was of going to the expense and complexity of having Baumgartner ride up in a pressurized capsule, when he was already wearing a full-featured pressure suit? Couldn't he have just ridden up in some sort of open cage? When time came to jump, he would only have to switch on the suit's own life support and disconnect the hoses from the main systems then go.
Right MarcusM, maybe that wording is a bit unclear. Humans have never accelerated through the sound barrier outside of a vehicle. Ejecting from a supersonic aircraft is more like crossing the sound barrier from the other direction.
At what point does a pressurized suit become a free-falling, man-shaped vehicle?
To answer the "re-entry" questions, 264,000 feet or 50 miles. Anyone that travels to this height is considered an "astronaut".
Playing Devil's Advocate since 1978
"The only constant in the universe is change"
-Heraclitus of Ephesus 535 BC - 475 BC
@Raynre "At what point does it stop being "sky diving" and becoming "atmospheric reentry"?"
Here is a good rule of thumb: If you used a balloon to get up there, you are most definitely still in the atmosphere.
lol i wouldnt do this if you paid me a 1000 dollars.
"religion is like a prison for the seekers of wisdom"
"..first human to go supersonic outside of a vehicle.."
What about Joe Kittinger?
The question was never addressed about what speeds can a parachute be safely deployed. I assume he will drastically slow down as the air density increases but is there a special rig for high speed jumps?
A few things:
@xalar: burn up on re-entry is a function of orbital velocity, which in this case is 0.
@mind967: I assume the skydiver will eventually slow down to standard skydiving terminal velocity of ~60 m/s, but I could be wrong. When in partial vacuum he will be falling very fast.
@smch et. al: Kittinger probably did not break the sound barrier. Estimates are about 615 mph max velocity.
Looking at the picture really quick in the beginning, I thought the jumper was nicely sleeping on some clouds. Oh, he seem so lucky. I envy him! Happy Sigh!
But of course, all sleepy dreams do wake up. I wish I was him. I love to jump!
Science sees no further than what it can sense.
Religion sees beyond the senses.
Felix is sexy, if a little addled.
That's quite a record. Good luck, Felix!
@ CodeZero; Of course, the 50mi LEO line is still an American thing, with other nations still considering other altitudes for different reasons, right? There's been no formalized agreement written on it yet, at least as far as I know.