Felix Baumgartner: The Supersonic Man
You may not have heard of Felix Baumgartner. In fact you may think that that’s just a dashing name that we made up because we want to live in James Bond’s world (which is true, so we don’t blame you).
He is, however, a real person, an extraordinary person and if you haven’t already, you will be hearing about him very soon. Baumgartner is an Austrian skydiver, BASE jumper and basically a fan of everything that flies in the face of Darwinism and we’re here to tell you about his newest project.
But first, let us fill you in on some of the other things he’s done in his lifelong grudge match against the forces of gravity and reason:
1. Jumping off the World’s Tallest Building…Twice
In 1999 Baumgartner set the world record for BASE jumping off the world’s tallest building when he threw himself off one of the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. We should probably mention that nobody at the towers had given Felix permission to jump, in fact, as far as anyone else in the buildings knew they were just about to watch some total lunatic jump to his death from a quarter of a mile in the air. They were only half right (Felix’s chute opened successfully and he made it to the ground safely, they were on the money about the whole “lunatic” thing though).
When, five years later, Taiwan announced that they’d just finished an even bigger building, the Taipei 101 Financial Centre, Baumgartner had a decision to make. He could live with the knowledge that there was a towering monument to over-compensation out there that he hadn’t conquered or…actually there was no “or.” Felix was on a plane to Taiwan before they’d even finished asking him the question.
At this stage Baumgartner was under sponsorship from Red Bull so surely they were nice enough to inform somebody that a crazy Austrian was going to be jumping off their building? Right?
Nope. In 2007 Felix casually jumped over the guard rail on the observation deck of the building (you know the thing that’s supposed to stop people from doing exactly that) and hopped off into the abyss. When Taiwanese officials found out that he wasn’t an interesting smear on the asphalt they barred him from future entry to the country.
We kind of see there point. They didn’t go to all the trouble of building the world’s tallest building only for some Austrian to come along and treat it like the high-dive at the Y.M.C.A.
2. Gliding across the English Channel
The English Channel is a strip of water separating England and France that’s about 22 miles wide. In the time between gleefully leaping off the greatest engineering feats of man Felix relaxed by traversing the channel using only the Bat-glider from the Dark Knight movies.
Armed with only an oxygen tank, a parachute and 6 feet of carbon fibre strapped to his back Felix jumped out of a plane 30,000 feet above Dover in England and attempted to glide over 22 miles of open water to France.
For 14 minutes he glided unassisted like some sort of Kryptonian with an energy drink sponsorship. After reaching speeds of 220 miles an hour Baumgartner eventually deployed his chute and landed safely in Calais.
We can’t stress enough how dangerous this feat was but to put the dangers into perspective we’ll just tell you that the camera man that was supposed to be filming Felix passed out from the thin air and extreme cold while they were still in the damn plane.
We’ve watched the video about a dozen times at this stage and we still refuse to believe that it’s real and not just some viral video showing off the special effects for the new Rocketeer remake.
3. The Lowest Ever BASE Jump
Now, to the untrained eye (i.e. us) having the lowest recorded BASE jump record seems like a bad thing. What’s the matter? Was the big baby afraid to go any higher? (And now that we’ve called Felix Baumgartner a baby we will never know a good night’s sleep again in our lives. What’s to stop him from parachuting into our nightmares?)
But BASE jumping is a funny thing, in that it’s sort of less dangerous the higher you jump from. The reason that it’s more dangerous than normal skydiving is because jumping out of a plane thousands of feet above the ground actually gives you lots of time for your parachute to inflate and slow you down to a non-terminal velocity. Jumping from a lower altitude however, means that there is less time for your parachute to inflate and decrease your speed, for this reason most base jumpers consider about 500 meters a safe distance. Felix was going to be jumping from 95 feet.
Jumping from the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Felix was low enough that his parachute mightn’t have slowed him down properly but high enough that he’d still become modern art on impact if it all went horribly wrong.
Yes, he climbed the statue using a crossbow, at this stage he could produce a batarang and we wouldn’t be surprised.
4. Skydiving onto a Building and Then BASE Jumping off of It
Landing on the roof of a building, particularly a skyscraper, is suicidally dangerous. Make one mistake and you can overshoot your landing spot, or worse, slam into the side of the building itself. Of course, Felix had his parachute on as soon as he heard the words “suicidally dangerous.”
In 2006, Felix jumped out of a helicopter and glided safely down onto the roof of the 625-foot tall Turning Torso building in Sweden. After landing, he then proceeded to BASE jump off the top of the building because there is something drastically wrong with the part of his brain involved in rational decision-making, and drastically right in the part of his brain involved in making the world more exciting.
After he’d landed for the second time he made his getaway by motorcycle since he’d, once again, forgotten to alert the authorities that he’d be turning their city into his own private Bond re-enactment.
5. 120,000 feet Stratos Jump
It turns out that all these stunts, stunts that by all laws of god and man should have killed Felix a dozen times over, have just been foreplay for his biggest and best affront to gravity. Today, on the 9th of October 2012, Felix Baumgartner will attempt to jump from a height of 120,000 feet. And no, those last two zeroes weren’t a typo.
120,000 feet! That’s space! From that height it’s possible for Felix to make out the curvature of the earth, the shape of continents and, presumably, his own insignificance and mortality. We don’t want to get overly technical here but he’s essentially jumping out of a balloon from space.
Oh sorry! Did we not mention the balloon? It seems that the only way to reach that ludicrous height and safely jump out (and we’re putting the word “safely” in giant quotation marks here) is to ascend in a giant hydrogen balloon like some sort of suicidal steampunk.
Jumping from this height will enable Baumgartner to break several records: Highest free-fall altitude (120,000 feet), longest free-fall (5 minutes, 35 seconds or longer than it would probably take you to read this article), highest manned balloon flight and, most insanely, first human being to break the sound barrier without a vehicle.
You heard us. At his top speed he’s going to be supersonic, he will travel from 0 to 690 mph in 34 seconds. To put those mind-boggling numbers into perspective, it means that if he starts weeping uncontrollably as he exits the balloon (as he’d have every right to) he’ll reach the ground before the sounds of his terrified sobbing.
Now we, as a species, have no idea what happens when somebody goes supersonic with just a flight suit and a pair of gigantic testicles to protect them. There is absolutely no data on smashing through the sound barrier face-first. There are NASA doctors involved in this project in an advisory capacity but, in reality, they’re only showing up because they secretly suspect he’ll come down with superpowers. Or…more superpowers.
Now, unsurprisingly, the list of things that can go wrong when you’re hurtling towards earth at shuttle re-entry speeds is pretty long. For the first 30 seconds of his dive, Baumgartner will be essentially travelling through a vacuum; the air will be so thin that he will have little-to-no control over his fall. The Stratos team have acknowledged the fact that this could cause Felix to go into an uncontrolled flat spin that might reach 220 revolutions per minute. This, combined with the whole “breaking the sound barrier with just his ass” thing we mentioned earlier, means that he runs the risk of turning into the world’s first supersonic, human shuriken.
However, if Baumgartner manages to stay under control and keep from passing out due to extreme cold or oxygen deprivation or both then he will deploy his parachute at 5,000 feet and land safely in New Mexico.
This of course begs the real question: “He’s going to break 5 world records and the sound barrier and they’re making him land in New Mexico?”
All we’re saying is that if he angles himself right on the way down he could probably land in Hawaii.
Richy Craven is an Irish freelance writer and semi-professional idiot. You can check out more of his stuff over at Cracked, A Series of Terrible Decisions or keep up with his ongoing quest to find gainful employment on Twitter.
Good luck in your jump today, Felix Baumgartner! Our hopes are with you, for you are an ineffable adventurer, like Neil Armstrong before you. Then raise your glass to heroes of human endeavor with his account of a whole day just for Guinness.