How Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner will survive a free fall from the stratosphere.
SAN FRANCISCO--When Felix Baumgartner attempts the unthinkable--jumping out of a capsule in the stratosphere and plummeting to earth--he'll be placing his life in the hands of an engineer named Mike
Baumgartner is the Austrian daredevil who is trying to skydive from
the highest point ever, more than 120,000 feet. His attempt,
scheduled for Thursday (Oct. 10), was postponed because of high winds
around Roswell, N.M., where a stratospheric balloon will lift him
toward space. The
next attempt is scheduled for Oct. 14.
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"I've become quite attached to Felix," Todd (
right) said in a video
interview. "He's depending on me to keep him alive."
Classic engineering understatement. Six people have died trying to
beat Joe Kittinger's record free fall in 1960. Todd, who made 821
jumps from 1959-70 for Pioneer Parachute, is responsible for much of
the suit design and maintenance.
Baumgartner's attempt is part of a ballsy promotional campaign from
the jitter pushers at Red Bull. Todd, who is an accomplished
skydiver himself, is responsible for the pressurized suit that will
protect Baumgartner as he descends through the atmosphere, through
temperatures that could reach -70 degrees F and speeds of more than 700 mph.
The suit, similar to those worn by high-altitude pilots, is designed
to a temperature range of +100°F / -90°F. Pressurized to 3.5
PSI, the suit should prevent the bends and help Baumgartner avoid,
A hockey-puck-sized controller system will monitor pressure as he
descends and adjust pressure accordingly.
The composite-composed helmet weights 8 pounds and features an
oxygen regulator that will provide Felix with 100 percent oxygen to
breathe from various sources. Those sources include liquefied oxygen
on the ground before launch, from the capsule's liquefied system
when he's on board, and from a pair of high-pressure gaseous oxygen
cylinders during the free-fall descent, according to the project
The chest pack (
pictured, right) includes an inertia measurement unit, GPS
beacons, telemetry equipment, an HD camera, a module that will be
used by the world governing body for air sports and aeronautical
An inertia measurement unit (IMU) that will report altitude
(pitch/angle) and spin. He has a main chute and a reserve chute,
both about 265 square feet.
When Kittinger set his record 52 years ago, he leaped from 102,800
feet (31,300 m), fell for 4:36, hit 614 mph before opening his
parachute at 18,000 feet (5,500 m). The only problem? His
pressurized right glove failure during ascent and his right hand
swelled up to twice its normal size.
Once Baumgartner falls, at "35 to 37 seconds after his step off, he
should be going Mach 1, around 690 mph," says technical director Art
Thompson. "He’s going to break the speed of sound at a little above
100,000 feet. He could reach up to 740 mph." Baumgartner will free
fall for more than five minutes, deploying his main chute at 5,000
feet. The whole trip, from leap to landing, should take 15 minutes.
And when his feet hit the ground, he'll look for Mike Todd and give him a great big hug.
"A lot of times you give yourself too much credit by thinking 'Well
I did that.' But you really didn't," Todd says. "There's always
somebody behind you that's helping you get things done. An
individual just can't do things on his own when it comes to …major