Felix Baumgartner plans to do what no man has ever done before at heights no man has experienced: he is going to become the first man to break the sound barrier with a free fall leap. He will jump with only his pressure space suit to shelter him as he soars into the history books at a record breaking 720 miles per hour.
Strapped into a suit sponsored by the energy drink that promises to give you wings, Red Bull, forty three year old former Austrian paratrooper Baumgartner will jump a record breaking 22 miles above the earth this Sunday, October 14th. Although the jump was originally planned for this past Wednesday, if successful the jump this weekend will be 65 years to the day that mankind first made the giant leap over the sound barrier. Flyboy Chuck Yeager aboard a rocket beast X-1 named Glamorous Glennis after his wife was the first man to crush this barrier on October 14, 1942.
The dive to earth will take just over five minutes before his parachute opens to cushion him home. Until then he has only his full pressure suit. Baumgartner’s suit resembles that of a shuttle astronaut. It has four layers: a comfort liner, a gas container fitted to his body, netting to keep the aforementioned layer in place, and an insulating exterior shell. The suit is unique in its degree of maneuverability. This trait is critical in the mission’s success. Andrew Zaleski wrote the following in the July/August issue of The Atlantic:
And this is where Baumgartner’s suit represents such a leap forward. If he’s to have a decent shot at surviving the fall, his suit must be maneuverable. He needs to go from a pencil dive, when he first hops off his capsule’s platform, into a head-down “delta” position, with his arms at his side. If he flubs that hop–if he pushes off with too much force, say–he could tumble into an uncontrolled spin, the force of which could kill him. And so his getup, unlike NASA space suits, which come in 12 standard sizes, is custom-tailored.
When Fearless Felix makes his leap, his suit, helmet and gloves are his only protection from a thin atmosphere and chillingly cold temperatures.
His blood could boil or gravity could crush him into the ground, but his biggest fear derives from his one source of protection: overwhelming claustrophobia. During his leap as well as the two-hour assent to record heights he will be in single radio communication with the individual that helped him conquer this fear: Joe Kittinger. Eighty four year old former command pilot Kittinger who previously set the free fall world record in 1960 with a 19 mile leap comments the new suit, ”Comparing my equipment to what Felix has is like comparing a Model T to a 2020 Ferrari.”