At the moment – right now, as you read this – an Austrian gentleman in New Mexico is preparing for a feat that would make most of us quake to the point of full-body dislocation. That man is aeronautical adventurer Felix Baumgartner, and that feat, well… takes some explaining.
Baumgartner, who in 2003 became the first person to skydive across the English Channel with just a futuristic-looking, carbon-fibre wing to keep him off the ground, is – weather permitting – going to be lifted out of the stratosphere by a massive balloon that looks as though it’s made out of tinfoil. Hanging off the bottom of that balloon will be a capsule resembling a lunar landing vessel. The capsule will contain a spacesuit. The spacesuit, in turn, will contain Baumgartner – and be equipped with a parachute. The idea is, upon reaching the edge of space, Baumgartner will hurl himself out of the capsule and freefall for several minutes, after which he will pop the ‘chute and spend roughly the time it takes to watch a movie drifting down to the desert floor.
During the freefall, Baumgartner will break the sound barrier. Normally, when people do that, they tend to be surrounded by the fuselage of a fighter jet, or (once upon a time) Concorde. But no – our Felix will only have a spacesuit.
Naturally, he is not pulling all of this off by himself – and has recruited a crack squad of project managers to his Red Bull Stratos venture who will help him achieve something that only he will be remembered for, when it comes to the record books and popular culture. With any luck, these technical and logistical masterminds will help to ensure that Felix returns to terra firma covered in glory:
Marle Hewett, PhD
Programme manager and senior flight-test engineer
Former chairman of the US Naval Academy’s Aerospace Engineering Department. Operations coordinator for the project, specialising in design, stability and hazard analysis.
Technical project director
Co-founder of Sage Cheshire Aerospace Inc, with more then 30 years of experience in the field. Assembled the team that will see the jump through. Helped to build the Batmobile in one of the pre-Christian Bale Batman films.
Spent almost three decades working in the brains trust of Lockheed, developing safety rigs for pilots. Responsible for all aspects of the spacesuit.
This veteran of an incredible 16,000 jumps has been the test subject for many of the experiments that have led to the Red Bull Stratos project, helping to assess physical challenges.
Jonathan Clark, MD
The assistant professor of Neurology and Space Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine is responsible for monitoring the effects of Baumgartner’s jump, from which he hopes to create new protocols for aeronauts and astronauts of the future.
Andy Walshe PhD
High performance director
Specialises in the sports-science side of the jump, ensuring that the noble diver is at peak fitness level and ready to go when the balloon finally graces above the atmosphere.
Colonel Joe Kittinger, USAF (retired)
Flight operations and safety
Jumped to a world record in August 1960 by skydiving from an altitude of 102,800 feet. Holder of a Lifetime Achievement award in Aviation from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and responsible for capsule communications (capcom).
What a gang!