Skydiver to jump from edge of space

In 1960, Colonel Joseph Kittinger jumped out of a helium balloon at 102,800 feet in the name of science, setting the world record for the highest and fastest parachute jump. Later this year, an Austrian daredevil named Felix Baumgartner hopes to beat that record by more than 3 miles, also by stepping out of a balloon. From
"Right now, the space shuttle escape system is certified to 100,000 feet," said the mission's medical director Jonathan Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon. "Why is that? Because Joe Kittinger went there. You've got a lot of companies that are vying for the role of being the commercial space transport provider for tourism, for upper atmospheric science, and so on. These systems, particularly during the test and development phase, need a potential escape system, which we may be able to help them provide with the knowledge we gain."

A team of aeronautics experts recently led Baumgartner through a week of testing meant to illuminate any possible weaknesses in his equipment and to familiarize him with the skills needed to navigate the conditions expected to assail him as soon as he opens his vessel door.

Only a few feet above ground in a capsule dangling from a crane on Sage Cheshire Aerospace test grounds in California, Baumgartner practiced exiting and stepping off his hot-air balloon. Even a slight stumble during this step could cause dangerous alterations in his in-flight position only moments later, as well as reduce his chances of actually breaking the sound barrier.

"Skydiver Plans Record-Breaking Supersonic Space Jump"


    1. I don’t see how he is a hero. Gutsy, yes. Not to take anything away from him but in my book a hero is someone who volunteers to risk their life/limb/wealth for someone else. He probably did it for the excitement and “going where no man has gone before” experience.

      Still very cool though.

      1. Kittinger did it to research how to safely bail out of planes at very high altitude. He tested the parachute they invented, the only way you can test a parachute. Hero.

  1. Yes, I met Kittinger at Maker Faire a few years ago and he was a delight. Warm, smart, and, er, down to Earth.

  2. The flight surgeon was married to one of the mission specialists who died on Columbia. Decided he’d spend some time working on space escape systems and this clearly works into that. Neat project.

  3. These systems, particularly during the test and development phase, need a potential escape system, which we may be able to help them provide with the knowledge we gain…

    …skills needed to navigate the conditions expected to assail him as soon as he opens his vessel door.
    I can’t wait to see the infographic cards they stick in seat pockets on space planes.

    “In event of emergency, seal pressure suit…. when entering troposphere, prepare for increased turbulence…”

  4. I experience a queasy pang in my lower belly just reading this article, literally. Amazing the diversity of human interests.

  5. This has been tried a few times recently by a different team. They keep running into problems with the helium balloon. It needs to be way larger than most balloons of its kind, and has to be inflated under perfectly calm (no wind) conditions.

    I think using a rocket would be a better bet.

  6. um, that’s not a balloon.

    I didn’t know helicopters could operate at 100k feet, but then again Red Bull does give you wings…

    it’s not like the google image search for “balloon skydive” doesn’t turn up sufficient examples.

    1. Why would you want a generic picture of a balloon skydive when the above picture is of the man who will attempt the jump?

    2. Nah, helicopters won’t operate that high. In fact, they have major problems at one fourth that altitude. And that’s only the helos that can make it up that far to begin with.

      However, there is/was a proposed reentry system for aircraft that would extend rotor blades out near the top of the nose, and it would auto-rotate all the way through reentry to landing. The ever-increasing lift provided by the rotor blades would keep it descending at a relatively slow rate.

  7. @endymion

    OMG, I had to stop reading it as soon as I read “space shuttle escape hatch”. Just reading it gave me vertigo.

    1. Re-entry heat is not an issue. If you are coming back from orbit you are going around 7600 m/s.

      If you are falling from a balloon you never get much faster than 340 m/s. (They are actually trying to break Mach 1). As the atmosphere thickens you go even slower.

    2. The heat generated from falling straight down with almost no orbital velocity is minor compared to that of say an orbital reentry. This guys speed may hit 750-800 mph on the way down through the thin upper atmosphere but what most people think of as reentry hits the atmoshpere at 17000. Bring hot dogs and marshmallows for that one. :-)

  8. Somewhat related: If helium balloons can make it that close to space, has anyone ever considered the possibility of using one as a launch platform for spacecraft?

    1. It’s been thought of, and worked on. JP Aerospace, for instance, is one company working on getting to space via a balloon.

      We think of balloons as being very simple devices, but that’s just not the case when you have a really big balloon. How do you keep it from getting any holes? How do you inflate it? What happens if the wind picks up?

    2. FaroCastiglo, balloons can only go “close to space.” Once you run out of atmosphere, a balloon has nowhere to go — ligher-than-air craft “push” against atmosphere, not against gravity. Plus, attaining an orbit requires forward speed, else you’re just a ballistic object that starts to fall as soon as you stop rising. A propulsion system capable of accelerating a significant mass to 17,000 MPH would be too heavy for a balloon to carry.

  9. Risky stuff:

    “The last person to try to break the highest free fall record died in the attempt. In 1965, New Jersey truck driver Nick Piantanida suffered catastrophic equipment failure when his facemask blew out at 57,000 feet. Lack of oxygen caused such severe brain damage that he went into a coma and died four months later.”

  10. I hate the internet.

    After then-Captain Kittinger jumped out of his balloon…


    Did it just sail away? Is it in the Pacific Gyre now??

    None of the web pages say that!

  11. For anyone who wants to watch a really nice version of the Kittinger jump, may I recommend Boards of Canada – Dayvan Cowboy:

  12. dbarak misunderstands auto rotation.

    as the disabled helicopter falls, the collective pitch is completely reversed, causing the main rotor to spin in the same direction it would if it were under power. very close to the ground, the collective pitch is put at a positive angle, and the stored energy from the blades rotating creates enough lift to soften the landing, but it’s still a crash. auto rotation would be of little value at the kinds of altitudes mentioned, since it only generates lift when the collective pitch is made positive, and the rotors can only effectively store so much energy.

    1. Actually, I’m very, very aware of how auto-rotation work (I’ve been through ’em many, many times in the Navy), but I may misunderstand how the rotors work in the case of this hypothetical spacecraft. I believe the space application may be SIMILAR to auto-rotation.

  13. I swear I’ve been reading about this pending attempt to skydive from the edge of space for about ten years now, and it’s always “Baumgartner plans” this and that. And then a couple years later, still planning.

    I’m not saying this sort of thing should be entered into lightly, but … just jump out of the damn balloon already! Trust me, succeed or fail, gravity will do most of the work.

  14. Kittinger has been one of my heroes since I first read about his jumps, when I was in maybe fifth grade.

    While I’m impressed by Baumgartner’s balls, and glad that Kittinger himself is on board with this project, it just loses something for me when the suit’s got the Red Bull logo so prominently displayed. I know they’ve got to fund the project somehow, but the logo, for me, detracts from the overall feel of the project. It’s an irrational response on my part, but there it is.

    @Phlip: The balloon was presumably recovered, because we’ve got the film from the gondola-mounted camera.

  15. A number of people have made plans to take a crack at the record–Michel Fournier was ready to try when his balloon broke free of its moorings, a couple of years ago, and here’s a Wired article from 2001 about the then-current attempts. One of the projected problems is “spinning out”–if someone goes into a horizontal spin while they’re supersonic, the centrifugal forces could tear them apart. Another problem is just getting the money to do it.

  16. One of the projected problems is “spinning out”–if someone goes into a horizontal spin while they’re supersonic, the centrifugal forces could tear them apart.

    On the one hand that would be a tragic loss of life, but on the other hand it would look AWESOME.

  17. can anyone tell me how long this jump is expected to last? is it minutes ? the thought of this gives me goosebumps!

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