Ten years ago, the sky had turned completely black Felix Baumgartner. He had left the atmosphere behind and was in the stratosphere, “in an implacable and hostile environment”, as he defined it some time after becoming the first human in break the sound barrier in free fall, jumping from 38,969 meters high. A challenge completed through sport, a useful tool to break the limits of what is known.
That mission, called Red Bull Stratos, left its mark beyond the figure, which would be surpassed in 2014 by Google executive Alan Eustace, who reached a height of 41,419 meters, with a free fall of 40,233 meters. In fact, 65 years earlier, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier by flying a rocket-powered plane. Baumgartner reached a top speed of 357.6 km/h (Mach 1.25) before the atmosphere slowed a 4:20 minute descent.
Record on Youtube
But that went beyond the very breakdown of physical boundaries. It was an unprecedented media spectacle that even today holds the record for an online broadcast on YouTube, crushing, for example, the impacts that the Summer Olympics can leave. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary, it has launched Space Jumpa documentary that extends the milestone of Baumgartner and his team from all perspectives.
“In the first two weeks there were more than 100 million views of the event. Ten years later it has almost a billion views. It is incredible to see the interest that Red Bull Stratos maintains over time”, assured Tim Katz, director of YouTube, head of sports and News Associations, with the perspective that gives a decade in which Red Bull Stratos has served, as a great project scientist who was also for the development of innovations in the aerospace field.
More than five years in the making, Red Bull Stratos changed the way we deal with life support in space, as spacesuits now offer better mobility and there are new protocols to protect the lives of airmen exposed to high altitudes.
The technical director of the project, Art Thompson, explains in Space Jump that the challenge has influenced the new engineers, “in addition, we use the technology that we designed in the capsule to change the life support settings of high altitude ‘jets’, including the U-2”, a surveillance aircraft used by the US Air Force and the CIA. However, something that is not told in the documentary, and that Baumgartner revealed in a recent interview with Forbesis that the mission was about to fail due to the pressure suffered by the Austrian paratrooper.
“I was devastated”
“The team had scheduled three seven-hour sessions in Texas to test endurance. That overwhelmed me. I knew I couldn’t do it. I went to the airport, bought a ticket and told them I was going back to Austria.. The pressure was unbearable. I wanted to go back to my parents and my girlfriend, to my comfort zone. I was devastated”, confessed the specialist, who was bothered -and still is- by a label: that of ‘superhero’, “because the big problem is that they put me on a pedestal. They said: ‘Felix is not afraid of anything ‘ But it wasn’t true.”
Hence, the milestone was fixed in the memory of Baumgartner as a matter of self-improvement, independent of the challenge itself. The first man able to break the sound barrier had to talk to Mike Gervais, his sports psychiatrist. “He told me that he was looking at the suit like it was my worst enemy. But it was what he felt. We worked for a long time to change the perspective and we finally got it”, he explains in the interview with Forbes about the process that led him to break the brand held until then by Joseph W. Kittinger. The US Air Force captain entered the aviation history books with a jump from a height of 31,300 meters.
That mission was not motivated by marketing or space exploration, but due to a war issue. Warplanes operated at that time at 13,000 meters. Pilots and crews were faced with the problem of how to escape from an aircraft flying in these horizons. There was a general opinion that it was better to deploy the parachute, but this operation, in the stratosphere, raised problems such as shock severe opening, extremely low temperatures and lack of oxygen.
From the age of 17
Five decades later, many of those concerns were on the mind of Baumgartner, who lived through the experience in three phases. The first was to assume that they were taking off, with the difficulty involved in raising a human being in a balloon like the one used in Space Jump. In the second stage, the Austrian wondered if he would be able to reach the height of the jump and then open the capsule door. His main fear was that he might freeze and thus the artifact would drop sharply.
Already about to end, standing on the platform, he thought about staying there longer. Savoring a moment for which he had worked very hard and for years. Not just the ones on the mission, because he always considered that his training began when he was 17 years old. That was when he first jumped out of a plane. He had previously done two tests, the first at 21,000 meters and the second at 27,000, but always at speeds below the sound barrier.
As the project evolved, many scientists started calling Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos team crazy. They ensured that from the projected height the skydiver would begin to spin without control. “I’m glad to know how many were wrong,” says the jumper, in one of the few arrogant gestures attributed to him. Perhaps because these trials made a common front with his weaknesses on the side of mistrust.
modern moon landing
However, October 14, 2012 arrived and with it the destruction of the sound barrier for another human being. “I knew millions of people were watching me. What a feeling. I wanted to enjoy more from that height. I remembered how frustrating work had been at times. With endless meetings in which you entered with five problems to solve and left eight hours later with five more. I thought about all that.” Then, the leap into the void: “There you accelerate like a madman towards the unknown and simply submit to fate.” Thus, until landing as if it were a simple jump.
Today, Baumgartner’s life moves between heaven and solid ground. In 2014, participated with Audi in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring, one of the quintessential automobile tests. He has continued to BASE jump, an extreme sport that involves jumping from fixed objects using parachutes to descend, and now does stunts from helicopters at air shows. All this with 53 years, lived to the point of becoming, according to himself, a kind of Neil Armstrong who in 2012 completed a modern moon landing. “Not that it was something similar, but it did manage to impact other generations in the same way.”