A leap from the edge of space

posted at 12:10 pm on February 7, 2012 by Jazz Shaw

42 year old Felix Baumgartner is currently warming up for an attempt to step into the pages of history. (Note: this isn’t a particularly political story, but one that’s of great personal interest to me.) The Austrian daredevil plans to take a stab at one of the oldest standing records in what are now referred to as “extreme sports” by making a parachute jump from more than twenty miles up.

It will be one giant leap for man – and leave the rest of mankind dizzy at the thought. The world’s most daring skydiver is preparing to jump out of a balloon on the edge of space.

Felix Baumgartner, 42, hopes to break an altitude record which has lasted more than 50 years.

He plans to dive 120,000ft – nearly 23 miles – from the adapted weather balloon full of helium. It should take 35 seconds to break the sound barrier and ten minutes in all, reaching more than 690mph.

Baumgartner will not deploy his parachute until he is less than 5,000ft from the ground and he must rely on an astronaut suit and oxygen tanks to keep him alive.

This story has great personal interest to me, mostly because I was a sport skydiver when I was younger. Pretty much anyone who has engaged in that activity is familiar with the record Baumgartner is looking to break because it’s held by somebody most of us consider a hero, Capt. Joe Kittinger. You might think such a feat was accomplished recently in the era of Mountain Dew, Red Bull and crazy stunts. But Capt. Joe actually performed the feat on a clear December day all the way back in 1960.

The Air Force was studying the effects of extreme high altitude flights, (which would come in handy during the era of spy planes) including whether or not somebody could escape from a plane under such circumstances. They needed a hero and Kittinger was the man who stepped forward. He rode a much more primitive balloon up to more than 100,000 feet and he jumped, setting a bunch of records in one fell swoop which stand to this day. (Since that time, many people have attempted to break Joe’s records, all winding up looking very foolish, very dead, or both.)

Kittinger not only set the records for highest jump and longest freefall, but was the only person to break the sound barrier without a vehicle. His protective suit and other equipment were far inferior to what Baumgartner will use, and in later recounts of the story, he noted that his suit failed in a few ways, along with his oxygen system. In one interview he even mentioned feeling like he blacked out during the fall, waking up to find that he was still falling. So Baumgartner has his work cut out for him.

Kittinger had a hand held camera when he made the leap, along with another one mounted in the balloon. The video still exists and you can watch it in this clip from a documentary on gravity done some time ago for Discovery. Enjoy.

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The pilot and co-pilot gave us strange looks. Perfectly good helicopter and all that.

troyriser_gopftw on February 7, 2012 at 2:24 PM

Those days I was a CH47 Flight Engineer.

True Story. My Crew Chief (close to being designated Flight Engineer) was put in charge of an all day paradrop with another experienced Crew Chief also close to making FE on a day I was off. Sicily DZ. They were doing full loads of 24 with half doing static line at lower altitudes and the rest taken to 10K for free falls. So, all day long they’re up and down and my CE, Kevin, is walking back and forth in the cabin watching the Jump Master do his thing. He was on the ramp with him most of the time while the jumpers were actually exiting. He said half way through the day he was getting really comfortable. So, he’s back on the edge of the ramp and he’s got his toes just at the edge looking down from 10,000 feet. He says he’s horsing around and inches them just past the edge. The Jump Master has about half of the stick that’s left lining up for the mad rush. Kevin, looking down notices his D-Ring which is supposed to be connected to the floor anytime he’s back there, is attached to the left top of the Monkey Harness he is wearing. Kevin isn’t secured to anything. He says at that moment he became frozen with fear, literally frozen and he started inching his feet back from the edge of the ramp and looking for a piece of Chinook to put his hand on. Light turns Green and the entire cabin empties past him on his left side and he’s sure someone is going to bump into him and take him along. They’re gone and Kevin’s still on board but still frozen and still close to the edge. Jump Master walks up behind him and slaps his back and say’s, “Boy, you’re white as a sheet.” He said his heart stopped. When he finally worked his way back away from the ramp, he said he spent the rest of the flight in the companion way behind the pilots.

I never laughed so hard at any story that man told me.

hawkdriver on February 7, 2012 at 3:13 PM

Meanwhile… I sent a few emails and made some phone calls from my office today.
The 12 year old me would be so disappointed.
simon on February 7, 2012 at 12:26 PM

Reminds me of some Calvin and Hobbes cartoons involving Calvin talking to his Dad who was going to work…

Marcola on February 7, 2012 at 3:45 PM

hawkdriver on February 7, 2012 at 3:13 PM

Easy to do: I remember coming back from an Arc Light mission, looking down and realising my seat pins had been in all the time. Good thing, too, because the zero delay lanyard was still hooked.

(note to the bewildered: seat pins in, ejection seat doesn’t work. Zero delay lanyard hooked – except at low speed and low altitude – ejection tends to result in instant evisceration.)

PersonFromPorlock on February 7, 2012 at 3:48 PM

I never laughed so hard at any story that man told me.

hawkdriver on February 7, 2012 at 3:13 PM

Hahaha! that is a good one! Can you imagine the “ohhhhh sh!ttt” wave that would go over you once you looked down and saw your unconnected D Ring? BTW, that’s how Navy SEAL Neil Roberts died in Afghanistan on Roberts Ridge—he wasn’t clipped into the MH47, it took fire, lurched, and he fell out.

ted c on February 7, 2012 at 3:57 PM

I actually had the honor of meeting Capt. Joe Kittinger. A little known fact: He clanks like a Newton’s cradle when he walks. Cast Iron cojones evidentially.

V7_Sport on February 7, 2012 at 5:12 PM


You are right about the space diving scene being cut from Star Trek: Generations.

But a similar scene appears in the most recent Star Trek film, featuring Kirk, Sulu, and an ill-fated chief engineer. (But they had to make room for Scotty somehow.)

NCC on February 7, 2012 at 5:19 PM

PersonFromPorlock on February 7, 2012 at 3:48 PM

Scary, Dude.

hawkdriver on February 7, 2012 at 6:28 PM

ted c on February 7, 2012 at 3:57 PM

Yep. They don’t all end up as funny stories.

hawkdriver on February 7, 2012 at 6:32 PM

I never laughed so hard at any story that man told me.

hawkdriver on February 7, 2012 at 3:13 PM

that reminds me of the novel Red Storm Rising. the paratroop officer who leads his men into combat on a low alt insertion, but gets so pumped up that he forgets to attach his d ring to the static line, and augers in from 1000 feet.

DrW on February 7, 2012 at 6:43 PM

DrW on February 7, 2012 at 6:43 PM

Bad Jump Master.

hawkdriver on February 7, 2012 at 9:12 PM

my jump instructor used to say that the reason he went so fast was because he was dragged down faster by the weight of his ginormuos brass … err… you know.

Jazz Shaw on February 7, 2012 at 12:44 PM


Your instructor, while funny, was wrong.

Difficultas_Est_Imperium on February 8, 2012 at 1:41 AM