ON SUNDAY an Austrian skydiver, Felix Baumgartner, jumped from the stratosphere. He set a world record for the highest jump, at 39km, and the fastest human free-fall, at 1,342km/h. For some context, a Boeing 747 travels at about 917km/h. In short, the man broke the sound barrier.
You can watch it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Oq2Xl7oiws
At this height, you are in a virtual vacuum, which means there is no air resistance. One of the greatest dangers is tumbling: where you can spin round and round with no air resistance — you become a human spinning top. It’s freezing cold (literally). Also, the rather verbose American gentleman commentator said that in a previous jump by Joseph Kittinger, former world record holder for skydiving from 31km in the 1960s, there was a tear in the hand of his space suit, which caused his hand to swell to double its normal size because of the pressure differences. For Baumgartner, that space suit of his was all that stood between him and certain death, with its 10 minutes’ worth of oxygen
So, why should we care about a man in a space suit jumping from the heavens?
Well, number one: it is very, very cool. Two, no matter how crazy you are, it is proof that there are crazier people out there. And three, his jump sets a benchmark for space technology.
It paves the way for the regulation of emergency evacuation space gear. One day in the near future, people will be able to board commercial shuttles into space. In the same way that you need evacuation procedures when you are on an aircraft that is about to plummet to the ground (a fear of flying? Me? No, never.), you need to be able to land safely back if something goes wrong with your space shuttle.
The Red Bull Stratos jump — which is the catchy advertising name for Felix’s daredevil dive — has set a precedent for space safety gear. It takes us all one step closer to travelling in space.