Friday, March 16, 2012

Video Del Fuego, Part LIII

(or, Crazy Austrian Watch)

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the U.S. Air Force was developing aircraft capable of flying at extreme altitudes. While some of the aircraft had already been built, such as the U-2, and others were in production, the ability of a pilot to eject safely at such incredible operational altitudes wasn't yet firmly established. So, the Air Force undertook Project Excelsior. And on August 16, 1960, Captain Joseph Kittinger rode a helium balloon up to 102,800 feet above the desert, and then stepped out into the abyss. It was the longest distance a man had ever fallen, and lived to tell about it.

Now, an Austrian skydiver named Felix Baumgartner wants to kick it up a notch.

Why? Kittinger, who is a technical adviser to Baumgartner, says it's about building a better space suit. I'm thinking that's hogwash. Baumgartner wants the record, and the bragging rights that go with it. And Red Bull wants the publicity that will go along with nailing said record. They've built the suit, the chutes, and the balloon. Now, they're testing them out.

On March 15, 2012, Baumgartner made the first test jump from 71,000 feet. There will be another test jump from about 90,000 feet, before the Real Thing from 120,000 feet. While Baumgartner is known for risk-taking, he's not known for stupid risk-taking. Unless something weird happens, the record is liable to be his sometime this summer.

One thing is certain, though. The view on the way down is going to be spectacular no matter how it ends. And, maybe, that was the point all along.

No comments: