Man jumps from edge of space while millions watch

October 14, 2012 • 1:46 pm

by Matthew Cobb

You either watched this live, or followed it on Twitter, or you don’t particularly care. Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped out of a ballon 24 miles high over New Mexico, watched by over 7 million people on a YouTube livefeed and heaven knows how many other people round the world.

As of writing, I’m still not clear whether he actually broke the sound barrier (this may be complicated by the fact that the speed of sound alters with air density and therefore with altitude…). Whatever you think of the exploit, you surely have to salute his coolness under amazing stress.

On his way up he tweeted “Do you think I will survive this? :)” and then, just as he was about to step out of the capsule, he tweeted “Here’s my last tweet for a while. Who knows, maybe my last tweet ever” Thankfully it wasn’t, and he survived.

Here are various videos and pics:

Just before he jumped:

A GIF of the opening seconds (bad for those of us who get vertigo):

The full jump on video:

And a happy Baumgartner on the ground:

There’s a discussion with him going on at Twitter – search for #stratos

Not sure what all this has to do with why evolution is true, but it no doubt tells us something about the capacity of people to do some very odd and courageous things…

82 thoughts on “Man jumps from edge of space while millions watch

    1. Oh dear, you’d have thought I’d learned by now to double check everything. Another fail. Apologies all round. It is now fixed.

  1. i turned on the livestream at exactly the right time, when he was getting ready to step out of the capsule and jump.
    i think he broke the record for highest manned balloon mission and for highest freefall speed.
    i was surprised by how fast he was falling in the first minute or so, despite being aware that it has to do with the lower air density, but it just seemed so unreal.
    he was spinning quite fast too, but got it under control as the air density got higher.

    annoying sidenote: the former record holder john kittinger who was in the control center told baumgartner twice that “his guardian angel” would bring him down safely.

    oh yes, one last thing: baumgartner is actually austrian.

  2. “Not sure what all this has to do with why evolution is true …”

    How did he get above the windows in the sky dome where the sky people throw the water down to make it rain?

    [1:6] And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”
    [1:7] So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so.
    [1:8] God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
    [1:9] And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.

  3. If Jerry is allowed to post on fudz and cats and boots and the Presidential debates and the Bible, then I think it’s entirely reasonable for you to post about an idiot who stepped out of a perfectly suitable balloon over twenty-four miles above the fuckin’ ground when he leaves you the keys to the site.


          1. More a fan of the Rev Spooner. (Also Tom Swift, who I guess might appeal to Prof Coyne.)

            But speaking of Kenny, I wonder how much of his oeuvre survives on the interwebs… The last time his show aired in Oz, unless I blinked and missed it, was roughly the time The Young Ones kicked off (the entire cycle of which was repeated on My ABC roughly annually for the next couple of decades, like The Goodies or Flowery Twats Fawlty Towers).

            1. I found virtually the entire Kenny Everett Video Show series on Youtube (assuming it hasn’t been DMCA’d since). I was actually looking for the great cunning stunt they pulled with a VW Golf – it’s
              (if I can get the quoting thingy and the HTML right…) What gets me is they did it for real….

    1. That makes the sound speed lower at altitude, so it would definitely appear that he broke the sound barrier. On the other hand, I would still be leery of media claims on this point; for instance, the New York Times article about the jump shows almost complete ignorance of what the “Mach number” means.

      1. Which brings up the issue of the dismal state of journalism these days. It seems like to be a journalist, you don’t need to know anything about much of anything. The presumption is that you can pick up enough on the fly to fool the editor and readers into thinking you understand the subject.

        I think we can add the category “journalists” to the list that includes the lawyers, vide Shakespeare.

      1. Bonetired’s point (and he’s right) was that the relevant variable for the speed of sound is the temperature, not the density:

        c ≅ √(γRT/M), where γ is Cp/Cv = 1.4 for air and M is the molar mass of air, M ≅ 0.029 kg/mol

  4. Damn, I would really love to do that. That is sure to be an awesome experience. So much more than a regular jump.

    I wonder if he felt any noticeable increase in temperature during the deceleration part of the fall. Besides energy requirements, the next most difficult factor in high speed flight is dealing with heating of the skin of the aircraft.

    1. He mentioned his visor fogging up at one point during the plummet, but not later. Kittinger (sp?) suggested from the ground that he expected it to clear up as Baumgartner descended into warmer air. no further mention of it. so presumably it did clear up (or he had a mask-clearing setting for his BA, which is common).

  5. Oddly enough that gif doesn’t trigger my otherwise usually bad vertigo. Perhaps it’s somehow too high. The lack of any reference does away with the feeling of height?

  6. You either watched this live, or followed it on Twitter, or you don’t particularly care.

    So am I somehow an inferior sort of human being because I didn’t?

  7. Not sure what all this has to do with why evolution is true, ..

    Well his underlying motivation is surely grounded in the evolved urge to display sexual fitness. This is then mixed up with specific cultural memes (world records waiting to be broken), plus, the support offered by evolved man’s latest tools (the balloon, the suit, phys. training and med. advice, mission control). All is glued together by fortuitous circumstance — a million unknown and perhaps unknowable details (this last bit is important: reductionism avoidance is a non-trivial pursuit).

    If he lived in a different century, the display would take a different form, but the risk tolerance of this individual would, circumstances being similarly favorable, be expressed in some other way.

    And I, a heterosexual male, say: SEXY!

  8. I am puzzled by the hype surrounding the technology.

    The NYT writes “jumped into a near vacuum”, which he did off a balloon that works by displacing a medium. One can’t have it both ways.

    I also don’t get the buzz about the pressure suit. Such suits have been used in spacewalks for years, haven’t they? Sure, latest improvements concern reliability (viz. Kittinger’s glove that leaked), weight, and dexterity, and perhaps the relevant bit here is aerodynamics.

      1. Most people in my diving club also have their names on their suits. It helps in the training pool, or if there are 7 otherwise identical suits hanging up in the drying room in the morning. It wouldn’t be the first time that someone had arrived on site ‘A’ to find they’d got the suit for someone at site ‘B’.
        It may not be specifically relevant in this case, but the habit probably sticks from the cutting room at the suit-makers all the way through.

    1. “Near” is the operative word.

      For humans, there’s no meaningful difference between the (lack of) pressure at 24 miles and that in interplanetary space. The vacuum at that altitude is similar to the vacuums generated in most vacuum chambers you’d find in a school.

      Obviously, though, there’s (just barely) enough air left to float a balloon. But, make no mistrake: that balloon was truly massive at that altitude. And the balloon material was paper-thin and the capsule as small and light as they could make it.

      And, as I understand it, that suit was designed specifically for this type of stunt. We’re a long way from having standardized pressure suits, and what works great for repairing the Hubble will probably get you killed in a high-altitude parachute jump.


      1. I agree that, logically, the capsule would be as small and light as possible. But what strikes me looking at the photo of him about to jump is, the capsule actually looks huge. I’m puzzled as to why it’s that big.

          1. I think maybe you’re right. The particular angle the pic was taken from, plus a bit of fisheye, probably does make the capsule look much bigger.

            A quick Google has found me some pics from other angles (before launch) and the capsule does look a lot more modest.

  9. ” . . . tells us something about the capacity of people to do some very odd and courageous things…

    What is ” (very) odd”? Is the benchmark standard for “odd” to be found in, e.g., some government Bureau of Standards? Would it have been “very, very odd” when John Kittinger did it in 1960? Is “odd” a compliment? Not from my experience. Is it as odd as, e.g., some gentleman “streaking” behind Elizabeth Taylor in front of millions of television viewers of the 1974 Academy Awards?

    1. They’re just taking his maximum inferred speed and dividing by the speed of sound in dry air at ground level. So it’s not the Mach number, which would actually be higher where the air is colder.

      1. If that’s what the paper did it’s daft. Well known that Mach speed decreases as altitude increases, and it’s highly significant for aircraft (hence the term ‘coffin corner’ for the altitude where the stalling speed and limiting Mach number of a particular aircraft creep inexorably together). I don’t know whether a non-aerodynamic shape like Baumgartner would experience buffet going through the sound barrier, but if so then it’s obviously the true speed of sound at the altitude involved which is relevant, not the speed of sound at ground level.

        1. “Mach speed decreases as altitude increases”

          Drat! That was horribly obscure phrasing wasn’t it? Should have been “the speed of sound (i.e. Mach 1) decreases as altitude increases”. My bad.

  10. Tecnicality: he jumped from the edge of the atmosphere (and not really even that: he still had another 38 mi to go to reach the Karman Line).

    I don’t think we’ve found any edges to space yet. 😉

    1. More precisely, he was definitely in the stratosphere, but closer to the mesosphere than the troposphere (which is where we live). The mesosphere is where meteors generally put on their show. Above the mesosphere is the thermosphere. Aurorae are in the lower part of the thermosphere, and the ISS is in the middle of the thermosphere. Past the thermosphere is the exosphere, which is little more than a random loose hydrogen or helium atom every few meters or so. Even the exosphere peters out at about a quarter of the way to geosynchronous orbit.



    1. I just did. See those three sandy-looking patches? They are in the side-view as well as readily identifiable in the GIF overhead view. You can also see those patches if you put in the launch coordinates into Google (33.3406, -103.8042) This places that “river” as nothing more than a shadow of the high plains mesa as it drops off towards those lighter patches. Here’s a link to those patches – and note the shape of the geological formation off of Tower Road near the launch site.

    1. (…scampers back, out of breath…) Jesus was in the balloon with him, and the balloon and Jesus are now at the right hand of the Father. You’re welcome… (dodges, ducks, scampers off again once more…)

    2. SQM’s channelling of Pat Robertson notwithstanding…no, it was a tiny capsule dangling from underneath a massive balloon. The balloon was made of some sort of paper-thin lightweight material, probably some variant of the mylar theme.

      I don’t know what happened to the balloon, but they showed the capsule descending on its own parachute while Baumgartner was still in the air. I’m sure they separated the balloon, tracked it to the ground, and recovered it. If nothing else, it’s a hell of a big piece of litter, and I doubt the corporate sponsor would want to draw the ire of the public for that kind of littering. If they’re smart, they’ll cut it up and sell / distribute the pieces as souvenirs.


      1. b-b-but… I have proof!

        It’s strange, but the main mission site only has oblique references to the end game. I’m still unable to find references to the balloon itself, but the capsule has one-time-use-only “crash pads” designed to absorb the impact from the capsule’s parachute landing. So they bring the capsule down in a controlled descent. Knowing how absolutely huge the balloon itself is, I’m guessing it is deflated (bursts?) and is dragged down as well.

      2. Relevant info is here.

        “After Felix has landed, Mission Control will trigger the separation of the capsule and balloon, so that the capsule can descend under its parachute. A nylon “destruct line” will release the helium so that the balloon returns to Earth. Then, the team will gather the envelope into a large truck, a process that can take several hours.”

        That would be a large truck… the balloon weighs more than the capsule. (3708 lbs vs. 2500 or so lbs). Sorry for the British units.

      1. Baumgartner was the only one in the capsule, but Jesus was in the balloon. And he was talking in a really, really squeaky voice.

        “The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded.” 2 Samuel 22:14.

  11. Apparently at the press conference he mentioned having uttered the following prayer before jumping:

    “Please, God, don’t let me down”.

    Quick! Dawkins, get him to recant!

    1. He wanted to float around up there with a temporary immunity to gravity?
      I would assume that after his air supply expired, shortly followed by Baumgartner’s expiration, then Ghod would have had no further interest in the cooling, “SoulFree(tm)” meat and would then have let it down. Hopefully there was some air pressure-triggered release on one or other chute, to prevent the meat splattering across the landscape like lumpy red paint.
      In any case, either Ghod did let him down, or Ghod doesn’t have jurisdiction over the Law of Gravity. Both of which are not good results in the “Ghod Credibility Sweepstakes.”

  12. Very cool. I hope he replaces his comms man before his next stunt for someone a little more precise!

    “the wind is out of the north”
    “the wind is out of the east”

    “the wind is coming from the ridge”
    “the wind is toward the ridge”

  13. Never mind all that jumping stuff.

    What I can’t get over is the fragility of the balloon. It was less than the thickness of a sandwich bag, and obviously could only be used once. If they deployed the balloon with the intention of using it, but the stunt had to be postponed, they couldn’t reuse the balloon. What kind of material is it that’s that thin, but strong enough not to tear when it’s on the ground being inflated?

    1. I think Capt Beefheart said it best: “a squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast and bulbous.” Here’s the link on the balloon, as I gave in #19 above:

      They avoid any contact with the ground by deploying it from the truck, by crews wearing only cotton gloves. I presume they hire directly from New Mexico’s numerous nudist retreats. Oh wait… “…all of whom must wear clothing that won’t snag the balloon.” Boring.

  14. The guy’s a space case. Quite literally! He said he was in the hand of Jesus but I see that nowhere on any of the recordings; maybe it was the sleight of hand of Jesus?

    It seems to me he’s not the first to break the sound barrier in free-fall, but just try finding out who was when Baumgartner’s name is overwhelming every search!

    Just for the record, Jackie Cochran was the first woman to break the sound barrier in level flight – in a Canadair Sabre with Chuck Yeager.

    1. From what I know about the history, it was *possible* that Joe Kittinger broke the sound barrier on one of his jumps, but it was never verified. (or later estimates indicated this not to be true, I don’t know)

  15. People all over are starving in this world! What did this cost? And how many people could we have fed. What does this prove? I fail to understand why!

    1. Do you have any idea how many starving children you could feed with what you spent on your computer and what you spend every month on your Internet connection?


    2. Are you serious?

      The entire enterprise was funded with corporate/private/volunteer time and money, who elected to spend their time and money that way.

      Unless you intended your remark in an satirical way, your comment is just. . .mean.

      1. This afternoon, National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” had a segment on the jump, with the focus being on Red Bull’s apparently masterful “branding.”

        Just curious, will Red Bull be able to take some kind of tax deduction on its investments in the jump-related equipment (balloon, capsule, pressure suit, support services, etc.) as a cost – advertising? – of doing business?

        1. I don’t see why not, or what would be wrong with that. IMO it’s a far more worthy use of advertising budget than inflicting more g*d-awful television ads on us. (NOT saying Red Bull’s TV ads are particularly bad, just that the vast majority of TV ads are. G*d-awful, I mean).

        2. Given what Red Bull is supposed to give you, why didn’t he jump in a squirrel suit?

          Might have been able to avoid the nearly-lethal spinning that way, but (and this answers my question) wouldn’t have made the speed record.

  16. There was a sci-fi version of a human ‘re-entry’ to Earth atmosphere in the film ‘Lockout’ – quite funny really as I am sure they would have burnt up!

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