3:02pm MDT – And that’s a wrap on press conference. Tune in tomorrow for a story featuring more of what the team had to say.
3:01pm MDT – Joe Kittinger: “I’d like to give a special one-fingered salute to all the folks who said he was going to come apart when he went supersonic.” Ha!
2:52pm MDT – Felix felt he was going into a flat spin. “There was a period of time I thought I was in real trouble.” Referring to his emergency drogue chute, “I knew if I pushed that button I would not go supersonic. I somehow have to make that call: do I push that button and stay alive, or do I push through and break the speed of sound?” He also then went into a tumble. The accelerometer data will have to be analyzed to know exactly how he moved through the air.
2:43pm MDT – Felix’s last words before he stepped off the capsule’s threshold: “I know the whole world is watching now and I wish the whole world can see what I see. Sometimes hyou have to go up really high to understand how small you are.”
2:40pm MDT – Preliminary records from FAI: maximum vertical velocity without a drogue (!) – 833.9 mph (Mach 1.24); freefall without a drogue – 119,846 ft.; highest exit from a platform – 128,000 feet. He spent 4 minutes and 20 seconds in freefall.
2:26pm MDT – Press conference with Felix, Joe Kittinger, and four other members of today’s Stratos team should be starting shortly. Stay tuned.
12:17am MDT – GPS data from his chest pack will be retrieved by an FAI official and run through an algorithm with temperature data to determine his actual speed. They should have a preliminary verification within the hour—the official one may not be for months. Stay tuned for updates from what’s sure to be a triumphant press briefing.
12:13am MDT – Parachute deployed. And he’s almost to the ground! Lots of clapping and exhales of relief here in Roswell.
12:08am MDT – 2:17 freefall – After going through maybe a dozen barrel rolls, he stabilized himself and found Delta position. He’s speaking, but too difficult to understand.
12:04am MDT – 128,168 ft – “Item 27: Release seat belt… Item 34: Detach chest pack umbilical.”
12:01am MDT – 127,562 ft – Felix has a special drogue parachute that opens when it detects extreme centrifugal force—96rpm for 6 seconds. If Felix uses that, it’ll be to save himself. He can also cut away the reserve chute if he has to, which is very unusual. It’s a contingency against the reserve accidentally popping open at a high altitude, because he’s only got 10 minutes of O2 to get to the ground.
11:47am MDT – 127,872 ft – Starting egress procedure.
11:41am MDT – 122,273 ft – Balloon appears to have almost reached maximum altitude. The decision has been made to jump.
11:39am MDT – 121K ft – Human performance director Andy Walsh, who’s watching in mission control, told me: “There’s a point here when he’s about to launch and for a lot of us, once he’s up there and jumps, it gets kind of sad. You’ve been building for these moments for so long and it’s done. His life changes dramatically in ways we can’t explain.”
11:37am MDT – 119K ft – New projected altitude for float: 125K feet.
11:35am MDT – 116K ft – Balloon slowing down as it reaches float altitude. The other records Felix hopes to set today: Highest freefall, longest freefall, first to reach supersonic speed in freefall. But he’s adamant that it’s about more than the records: “This is not a stunt. It’s nowhere near a stunt. If it was, most of the science team I put together would not be on this program. Nobody would be here.”
11:32am MDT – 115,500 ft – Felix has now been carried higher in a balloon than any human. Record #1.
11:31am MDT – 114K ft – Felix is wearing four different GPS systems. One is for the FAI, so that it can verify his speed/altitude records. One transmits data to the ground. Another is just recording data. And then there’s one that helicopters and mission control use for situational awareness-–to see exactly how he’s moving around in the stream, what direction he’s pointing.
11:28am MDT – 111K ft – Felix once told me: “All the BASE jumps I’ve had to do in the past brought me to the place I am right now. Every BASE jump that I did was important. It developed my skills, my trust in myself. I know that I can deliver if I’m on fire.”
11:26am MDT – 109K ft – Team considering options for faceplate-heating problem. There should be 10 hours of O2 in the capsule in case he needs to ride it back down under the capsule’s parachute– but, of course, that’s no one’s first choice.
11:24am MDT – 107K ft – We’ll probably Felix him checking his wrists. He’s wearing a wrist altimeter that was specially built to work above 120K feet. (They normally only goes to 30K feet.) That’ll give him an idea of his altitude as he’s falling. He’s also wearing a watch so he can see how long he’s been in the air. When he BASE jumps off of buildings it usually happens in a snap; today he’ll be freefalling five and a half minutes.
11:22am MDT – 106K ft – The air pressure will also build up below 100,000 feet, when the air pressure slows him from nearly 700 to terminal velocity, about 180 mph.
11:19am MDT – 104K ft – The thing no one knows—and the main scientific finding—will be what happens to the human body when he goes supersonic, when he breaks the sound barrier. Will he feel a sonic boom? A pressure wave will build up as air molecules get smashed together in front of him. Technical director Art Thompson doesn’t think it’ll feel much different than regular skydiving because he’ll be breaking Mach speed at such a high altitude, where there’s negligible air density.
11:17am MDT – 102K ft – Joe Kittinger said that after he jumped, he looked up and saw the capsule and balloon shooting up and away from him. Of course, it was Kittinger that was speeding downward. With such a low atmosphere, he felt like he was floating.
11:15am MDT – 100,000 ft – When he steps out on the threshold, we should see him salute, then hit a switch to trigger cameras on the capsule, and then he’ll be off. It’ll take about 34 seconds for Felix to go supersonic. It’ll probably happen at about 102,000 feet.
11:14am MDT – 98,500 ft – The danger is if he goes into a flat spin. The centrifugal force will cause the blood to rush to his head and he could black out. If the blood vessels rupture, he’d have a stroke. To prevent that his team engineered a special drogue shoot that triggers when it detects 3.5 g’s for more than 6 seconds.
11:11am MDT – 95K ft – Felix will probably do 10 or 12 barrel rolls along his long axis when he exits the capsule. Despite the bunny hop, he’s a little top heavy and so rotates off the step. There’s no air density for him to control his fall for about 20 seconds. He did about four rolls during his 97,000 foot jump, so he knows what that’s like. Once there’s enough atmosphere he’ll have about 10 seconds to get in a head’s down position to break Mach.
11:07am MDT – 92,500 ft – Both Felix and Joe Kittinger have said they have no hesitation exiting the capsule. It’s awfully harsh up there, so they want to get back to earth as fast as they can.
11:05am MDT – 90K ft – Passed one and a half hour mark. Joe Kittinger told me comparing the suit he wore in 1960 and the one Felix is wearing today is like comparing a Model T Ford and a Ferrari. Joe opted for the partial pressure suit worn by high altitude pilots, “because I wanted to demonstrate to the air crews that we were giving them darned good equipment and that I would bet my life on the equipment they were using.”
10:56am MDT – 80K ft – There are spectacular shots coming from the cameras on the capsule. Those include nine HD cameras and three 4K ones (with four times the resolution of HD). They had to build special pressurized housings with cooling systems to contain them. Stratos’s director of photography told me, “We basically built a flying television studio.” All the camera angles were very carefully composed for the dual purpose of giving mission control situational awareness while providing footage for a documentary film.
10:50am MDT – 76,600 ft – The whole procedure for exiting the capsule, including final instrument checks, takes about half an hour. Once he unhooks from the capsule’s oxygen supply, he’ll be out of there in one or two minutes. There’s only about a 12-minute supply of oxygen in his bailout bottles, depending on how fast he’s breathing, so he won’t be standing on that threshold too long—maybe 10 seconds.
10:45am MDT – 72, 300 ft – McCarter tells me Felix now has the same view as a U-2 pilot, “only he’s going a lot slower!” The view below him is blue; above him, black.
10:44am MDT – 69,500 ft – Felix has passed the Armstrong line (at 63,000 feet) in which water vapor bubbles out of bodily fluids if exposed to the extremely thin atmosphere.
10:40am MDT – 68K ft – There may be a problem with the device that heats Felix’s faceplate. Possibly a battery issue in his chest pack? But he’s still ascending so they may have sorted it out. Dan McCarter tells me that when U-2 pilots eject above 70K feet they stay IN their seat with a drogue chute for stabilization; a battery pack automatically kicks on to heat their faceplate down to about 15,500 feet. Then pyrotechnics kick the pilot, chute, and survival kit one way and the seat another. Felix has a drogue that will open automatically too should he not be able to sight the horizon and start spinning uncontrollably.
10:29am MDT 60K ft – Joe just told Felix to make sure he ducks his head before he goes out the door (near-final item on checklist rehearsal). It sounds funny, but Russian parachutist Pyotr Dolgor died after his suit decompressed during a 93,970-foot jump in 1962. Some think he cracked the faceplate as he exited the craft.
10:25am MDT – 58,000 ft – Mission control advises Felix, but if something happens with communications, he can also do this without any support using a checklist. Joe Kittinger: “He doesn’t need me. I’m there to be a safety valve for him but he can do this whole jump by himself.”
10:22am MDT – 55,250 ft – The visor of Felix’s helmet has been modified so that it doesn’t fog. A battery in his chest pack heats it up. Nick Piantanida died when his suit decompressed in 1966 at 55K+ feet; some experts believe he opened the visor himself, either to get a blast of cold air or to defog it.
10:18am MDT – 53, 399 ft – Felix now going through rehearsal of the checklist he’ll go through before he jumps.
10:12am MDT – 48K ft – Everyone in mission control can speak through an intercom to each other. Only Joe is allowed to speak to Felix. They’ve been practicing going though the checklist, communicating with each other, for years now. Joe said he’s right there with Felix the whole time. “When he stands on the step of that capsule and is getting ready to jump off, his heart rate is 160—mine’s about 190 because I’m going with him when he jumps off.”
10:10am MDT – Felix makes a lot of adjustments during the ascent. He’s constantly adjusting and communicating with Joe. Technical director Art Thompson says the two-plus hours go by quickly for him. He compared it to watching a movie when you’re on a plane (yeah, right!).
10:03am MDT – The balloon is still visible in Roswell. During Felix’s 97K foot training jump, it was visible to the human eye all the way to altitude. At that point it will round out to roughly 300 feet in diameter.
9:59am MDT – Felix is just about at cruising altitude for passenger planes.
9:55am MDT – David Clark’s Dan McCarter just told me that U-2 pilots have to sit in their fully pressurized suits, strapped into ejection seats, facing a corner, for 30 minutes to make sure they’re comfortable with it. Felix reached a point during his training that he wasn’t, and then he was in the unusual position of having to work through it. (If you’re a U-2 pilot, you’re either in or you’re out based on that test.) His team then added a human performance director to help him with his physical and mental training.
9:48am MDT – He was pretty candid with me about why he committed so fully to this: “[The worst case scenario] is always hard to put out of your mind. Even me sometimes, I’m sitting here on the ground and thinking, this is going to be so tough. It’s one thing doing the whole test program—you know if something goes wrong you can always escape. At 120,000 feet, this is for real. If something goes wrong, there’s no way to escape. Nobody’s there. The only connection to the ground is your radio connection. They might be able to give you some advice, but you’re the one who pays the price for it. That’s why I’m so anal about looking at all this stuff and trying to understand—because I want to become an expert by myself.”
9:44am MDT – Felix trained for years under a rigorous test program to prepare for this. He skydived in a vertical wind tunnel to practice stabilizing his body; he bungee-jumped off a crane to practice that first step; he sat inside his capsule in a pressure chamber, going through checklists—all while wearing the pressurized spacesuit. And he gradually ratcheted up the height of his practice jumps, from 75,581 feet to 97,145 feet.
9:41am MDT – I thought the correct answer would be: Without a spacecraft?!? You’re crazy… But Felix went on to say: “They trust me, because looking at my background I’ve done so many things and survived. But you know mom’s always care—this is not an easy attempt. This is a really hostile place we’re trying to go. No matter how good your skills are, if something goes wrong, it takes you out in a second.”
9:40am MDT – I asked Felix once what his family thought of his goal to skydive from 22 miles above the earth. His response: “My family? What would you think if your son is telling his mom, I’m going to space?”
9:33am MDT – You just saw a white pi-ball float past the capsule. That’s one tool the meteorologist was using to gauge wind speed at different heights. We were all waiting for the four pi-balls, reaching up to several hundred feet, to line up.
9:32am MDT – The first 4000 feet are critical; project engineers refer to it as the “death zone.” If something goes wrong—say, the balloon tears—there won’t be enough altitude for the capsule’s reserve chute to fully deploy, and there won’t be enough time for Felix to exit the capsule. It takes him 13 seconds to get out. That’s why they’re so wary of the balloon being compromised before it leaves the ground.
9:30am MDT – And he’s off! It was a picture perfect launch. Many whoops and hollers.
9:26am MDT – At least one recovery helicopter has just taken off. All personnel are clear. Ready for launch.
9:24am MDT – Not everyone gunning for Kittinger’s record plans to use a balloon to get to float altitude. German parachutist Olav Zipser announced plans to launch to record-setting heights–and then skydive back down–in the nose of a rocket.
9:20am MDT – Balloon inflation complete! And balloon perfectly steady. 42 minutes until launch.
9:15am MDT – The weather looks perfect. They’re speeding up inflation!. Live stream should begin at 9:30.
9:10am MDT – The nearest towns are 70, 70, 90 and 35 miles away in each direction. As the city manager just pointed out to me, there aren’t a whole lot of test sites left with this kind of open space. The Trinity test site, where the first atomic bomb was tested, is 100 miles away as the crow flies.
8:59am MDT – The hardest part of this whole mission may just be getting off the ground. More on that here: pops.ci/RwCLrp
8:56am MDT – Media center got very quiet. I think we’re all holding our breath. The balloon is clear, but it looks ribbed: special reflective tape has been incorporated into the seams so that it can be seen on radar. Inflation will take about 40 minutes.
8:48am MDT – At the risk of jinxing this, the balloon looks very steady in the air column right now. Last week it was twisting violently by this point in the inflation. Next, the crew chief will inspect the entire flight train and remove the safety constraints. And then the balloon will release from the launch arm and the crane bearing the capsule will drive rapidly down the runway to meet it. It will release the capsule when it’s vertical with the balloon.
8:44am MDT – Balloon inflation has begun! It’s rising off the tarmac now…
8:34am MDT – Don Day is getting a lot of screen time. He should play poker. Red Bull said this morning the balloon *could* be reused despite the fact that it’s been pulled out of the box. It’s laid out across the tarmac but still in its red wrapper.
8:28am MDT – Meteorologist Don Day is on the TV screen talking into a headset. We’re all trying to read his lips.
8:20am MDT – Red Bull consumption easily up 110%. There should be an announcement any time now. The sun is blinding over the field where the balloon is laid out, and the media center has turned into a bit of a greenhouse. The later in the morning it gets, the greater the chance of a thermal like the one that aborted Tuesday’s launch.
8:05am MDT -I asked Felix in 2010 if he’d gotten used to wearing all of that gear. “No, I’m just a base jumper/skydiver,” he said. “I don’t even wear hand gloves in winter time because I want to have that feel. I’m totally locked in that suit, and the parachute is three times heavier than anything [I’ve used] before. I’m sitting in that capsule and have to rely on all the scientists. Before I just had to rely on my skills and the parachute, and now everything changes.”
7:41am MDT – There’s a weather hold again due to winds at 700 feet. I can see muscles tensing a bit with each update. New plan is to begin inflation at 8:30.
7:35am MDT – Felix is in the capsule now prebreathing pure oxygen. He does that for up to two hours to rid his body of nitrogen, so that he doesn’t get the bends. He could be sitting in that suit for up to five hours, though, depending on delays. People in the media center have clustered around the various flat screen tvs, hoping for some sign of inflation.
7:26am MDT – Mayor Del Jurney tells me they were pleased when they learned Red Bull had chosen Roswell for the site of the Stratos launch. After all, he says, space started in Roswell when Robert Goddard developed rocket fuel jet engine propulsion so it’s only appropriate Red Bull establish history once again here. Among Roswell’s assets: “beautiful skies, great weather, not a lot of air traffic, a premiere runway” (it’s actually a back-up site for landing the shuttle) and, I just learned, the world’s largest mozzarella factory!
7:20am MDT – 7:15 am MDT – Among the handful of locals beginning to gather on the second floor of the Red Bull media center: an attorney, a fifth grade science teacher, and the mayor of Roswell. Others have pulled their cars up to the perimeter of the 5000-acre site, which has been tightly secured by Red Bull. It shouldn’t be hard to see the balloon even from there, since it’s roughly the size of a flying football field.
6:53am MDT – The Red Bull Media center is a two-story building with floor-to-ceiling plexiglass windows looking over the airfield, just yards away from an identical building that houses mission control. People are alternately hunched over laptops at rows of tables or idly standing around with coffee (very little Red Bull broken out yet, though it’s in ample supply). Now it’s just a waiting game until the “go” for inflation, but people seem relaxed and confident it will happen this time.
6:25am MDT – One more interesting fact about the suit Felix is using: There are two of them, S02 and S03. The second suit is laid out and ready to go should there be a problem with the suit he’s wearing now. Just like for U-2 and SR-71 pilots, redundancy is critical. “You don’t delay or cancel a mission because you don’t have a back-up suit,” McCarter says.
6:12am MDT – Just had a great chat with Dan McCarter and Jack Bassick of the David Clark Company, which made Felix’s suit. They’re here to watch the launch, too. Felix’s suit is actually based on an Air Force pressure suit, McCarter tells me. Because a USAF pilot is typically in a seated position, with one arm angled to reach the throttle and the other holding the yoke, they had to redesign the suit with more mobility at the hip and shoulder joints. The exterior cover of Felix’s suit also covers his entire body, including his boots, whereas the USAF cover stops at the thighs (and then the restraint layer contains the pressure). The U-2 program office is considering developing a next-gen full-pressure suit with some of these modification, McCarter says.
6:03am MDT – We’re on weather hold until 6:45am, but we’re told mission control is very optimistic about the weather at that time. That places a launch at 8:45am.
5:27am MDT – Felix arrived on site at about 2:30am. At that point he goes right into a very prescribed routine. His human-performance director Andy Walsh—the guy who’s worked most closely with Felix on his physical and mental training—says that routine is what helps him keep his focus. He’s now in his suit but it’s not yet pressurized.
5:14am MDT – We can see inside mission control on closed circuit tv here in the media center. Three rows of people are in position, including Art Thompson, the technical director, and Joe Kittinger, who will be the CAPCOM, or capsule communicator, throughout the flight and Felix’s jump. During the flight four large screens will show Felix or the Earth from different angles. Right now they’re showing the balloon team’s progress on the tarmac. Once again, I’m kicking myself for forgetting my binoculars!
5:02am MDT – T-minus 2 hours and 30 minutes until launch. Felix has begun suiting up. The balloon team from ATA is unspooling the balloon on the tarmac.
4:53am MDT – This balloon is three times the size of the largest balloon ever used for manned flight, and it’s made of polyethylene only 0.0008 inches thick. Once the balloon rises from the airfield the flight train will be a teardrop 700 feet tall, which is why it’s so important the winds at 700 feet remain only about 2mph for launch. Remember, there’s no spare balloon on site this time.
4:48am MDT – Permission to layout balloon granted! Weather hold lifted. That doesn’t mean inflation will begin soon, but it means we’re one step closer. They do not want to stretch that balloon unnecessarily.
4:30am MDT – Weather hold due to high winds at 700-800 feet– the level of the top of the inflated balloon– just like Tuesday. The balloon remains unpacked and Felix, unsuited. That said, he’s on site and has already inspected the capsule. If they get a window at all, they’re primed to go for it. Expect a launch– or final go/no-go call– by 9am.
4:18am MDT – Security was extremely tight at the Roswell International Air Center this morning for Felix Baumgartner’s second attempt at skydiving from 123,000 feet above sea level. The Red Bull Stratos crew has been onsite for hours now preparing for launch. Media briefing in a few minutes.