Falling hard, fast
By Rene Romo - Albuquerque Journal South Reporter
Thu, Feb 9, 2012
LAS CRUCES – Joe Kittinger’s record for the highest, longest and fastest sky-dive has stood for more than five decades since he hurtled to Earth, 19 miles below, at more than 600 mph.
Kittinger, now a retired Air Force colonel, had stepped out of a balloon-borne capsule from Holloman Air Force Base at an altitude of 102,800 feet on Aug. 16, 1960, as part of the nation’s space program.
Sometime later this year, 41-year-old Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner, a member of the Red Bull Stratos team, hopes to be the one to finally smash Kittinger’s record when he plummets to Roswell in a pressurized suit from a height of more than 21 miles. He also wants to break the sound barrier, 768 mph.
Reached at his Florida home, the 83-year-old Kittinger, an adviser to Baumgartner and a member of the Stratos team for more than three years, said he doesn’t mind that his record will be broken and is proud to be part of the effort.
“That’s what records are for, and that’s how you make progress,” said Kittinger, who was inducted in 2010 into the National Skydiving Museum’s Hall of Fame.
“You go higher and faster – that’s the human spirit.”
Felix Baumgartner of Austria takes a test jump from a helicopter as a member of Red Bull Stratos, a sky-diving team sponsored by Red Bull. By diving down to Roswell, more than 21 miles below, Baumgartner aims to break the record set by Joe Kittinger in 1960. (courtesy of red bull stratos)
Kittinger, who had been assigned to the Air Force Missile Development Center at Holloman in the mid-1950s, had made two previous jumps from an altitude of more than 74,000 feet when he made the third record-setting jump in August 1960. In that last dive from the edge of space, Kittinger stepped out of a capsule carried by a helium balloon 102,800 feet above Earth.
During his free-fall that lasted more than four and a half minutes, he reached a speed of 614 mph before deploying a parachute.
Kittinger’s jumps, part of Project Excelsior in the early days of the nation’s space program, led to improvements in the development of spacesuits and safety for people at high altitudes.
Red Bull Stratos is a sky-diving team sponsored by the Red Bull beverage. In a news release, it said Baumgartner’s sky-dive will attempt to advance medical science and an understanding of survival in space.
Without a pressurized suit, no human being at such high altitudes would last long, Kittinger said, as the low pressure would cause blood to boil. On his jump, Baumgartner will wear a prototype for the next-generation of pressure suit, Kittinger said.
Baumgartner was unavailable for comment, but in the news release, he said the planned jump over Roswell is more than just an effort to break Kittinger’s legendary record.
“This mission is all about pioneer work. Maybe one day people will look back and say it was Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos team that helped to develop the suit that they’re wearing in space,” Baumgartner said. “We want to do something for posterity.”
Baumgartner has made a name for himself as a sky-diver and BASE jumper – Buildings, Antennaes, Spans and Earth. He has jumped from the top of the World Financial Center in Taipei as well as the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. He used carbon wings fixed to his body in 2003 to become the first man to sky-dive across the English Channel.
Chris Needles, secretary of the National Skydiving Museum board, said Baumgartner is “about to go to the next level. … It’s taken a long time for someone to come along and set the bar higher.”
During Baumgartner’s sky-dive from high altitude over Roswell, Kittinger will be Baumgartner’s primary point of radio contact during the ascent.
Roswell was chosen, according to Red Bull Stratos, because of several favorable factors, such as the fair weather that permits many launch windows.
The launch of the high-flying balloon will be managed by Albuquerque-based ATA Aerospace, described by its website as a joint venture that among other things handles to “near space/high-altitude balloons.”
But don’t expect to be able to watch Baumgartner’s attempt in Roswell. Red Bull Stratos spokeswoman Trish Medalen said that, for safety and security reasons, no on-site public viewing will be allowed but the mission will be streamed live at www.redbullstratos.com.
The date and time of the launch will be announced.