Felix Baumgartner skydive: the key questions answered


What was the most likely thing to kill him during his supersonic jump, what happened to his balloon – and is he married? All the questions about the Austrian daredevil you want answered.

What happened to the capsule and the balloon?

As soon as it was confirmed that Baumgartner had landed safely, the attention of mission control shifted to the balloon and capsule. The team remotely detached the capsule from the balloon, allowing it to fall back to Earth under its own parachute. It hit the ground 55 miles east of Baumgartner’s own landing site. The balloon was deflated via a nylon “destruct line”, with the lightweight balloon material – known as the envelope – falling back to Earth to be gathered and removed by truck. The capsule could, in theory, be used again, but the balloon envelope can only be used once.

Why did he not break up, or pass out, when he went supersonic?

The precise physiological exertions experienced by Baumgartner’s body as he momentarily reached 833.9mph, or Mach 1.24, during his descent are still being studied by his team. One of the jump’s key scientific goals was to learn, via a series of monitors on his body, more about what such an experience does to the human body. All we know is that he survived, which proves that pre-jump speculation that his body might explode or disintegrate due to the stresses were ill-founded.

Baumgartner himself says that he felt very little as he broke the sound barrier because his insulated suit buffered him from external sounds and forces.

What was so special about the suit?

Baumgartner’s suit and helmet were described by his team as “his personal life-support system”. The suit was modelled on those worn by pilots of high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, but it had never been tried in a free-fall before Baumgartner started testing it. It had four layers consisting of both “breathable” Gore-Tex, and heat- and flame-resistant Nomex. The internal layer was a “comfort liner”. Next was a “gas membrane” that helped to retain air pressure. A “restraint layer” then helped to maintain the suit’s shape. Finally, the external layer was constructed of Nomex to protect against fire and temperature extremes. It was made by a US company called David Clark that has been making suits for astronauts and high-altitude aviators since 1941.

Did he have to fast before the jump? (via @nessymon)

For at least a day before the jump, Baumgartner consumed a “low-residue, low-fibre” diet on the orders of his medical team. They wanted his food to pass quickly through his body without any build-up of gas. In a low-pressure environment, the gas might expand and cause him severe internal pain – a condition known as barotrauma. For the same reason, Baumgartner, much like a deep-sea diver, also “pre-breathed” oxygen for two hours before his ascent in the balloon to help reduce the amount of nitrogen in his blood. If his pressurised suit had failed at above 19.2km (the “Armstrong limit”, where water boils at body-temperature), he would probably have experienced a usually fatal condition known as ebullism – or the “boiling” of the blood – whereby his body would start to swell painfully within seconds. Baumgartner had a straw inside his helmet to allow him to consume liquids (presumably not a can of Red Bull, his key sponsor).

How much sleep did he get before the jump? (via @nessymon)

Baumgartner’s team built a schedule to ensure he was fully rested. This involved going to bed precisely 12 hours before the ascent for an eight-hour sleep. But due to the hectic schedule on jump day, he was awake several hours before dawn. Baumgartner has said that he likes to draw in a sketchbook as a way to clear his mind before a major jump.

What was the biggest danger that Baumgartner faced?

His team identified 16 key risks that had to all be overcome for the record attempt to succeed. They included ultraviolet radiation, wind shear, landing impact, extreme temperatures, hypoxia (oxygen starvation), decompression sickness, entering a flat spin during the descent, “shock-shock interaction” (an explosive effect when shock waves in the air collide when passing through the sound barrier) and fire aboard the capsule. But the team said two dangers hung over Baumgartner above all others – a “breach” in the suit or capsule, and the accidental deployment of a parachute.

How did they know where he would fall?

Given that he reached a height of 24 miles above the surface of the Earth, it seems remarkable that he was able to land with such accuracy back on the desert floor in New Mexico. His team later confirmed that his landing site was just 23 miles from where the balloon had taken off several hours earlier. Unlike an astronaut, Baumgartner remained within the Earth’s atmosphere so never experienced the planet rotating underneath him as witnessed by anyone actually in orbit. His team waited for the perfect weather conditions when high-altitude winds that might have caused his balloon to drift were at a minimum. Once he exited his free-fall by deploying his parachute, Baumgartner was able to “steer” himself to a preferred landing spot. A beacon inside his suit meant his recovery helicopter was able to closely follow him.

What next for Baumgartner?

“I’m retired from the daredevil business,” he said afterwards. “I want to find a nice decent job as a helicopter pilot. I’ll fight fires and rescue people. No e-mails, no phone calls.”

How long will it be before every Tom, Dick and Harry adventure-seeker is queuing up to do this? (via bateleur)

The non-reusable balloon used by Baumgartner cost $250,000, with the wider cost to the sponsor Red Bull of the whole record attempt estimated to have cost many millions of dollars. This will put off the vast majority of copycats, but the high-profile stunt is expected to provoke a surge in interest for parachuting.

Is he married?

A surprising amount of questions on social networking sites seemed to be about his marital status. Bad news, though: Nicole Oetl, his girlfriend, was waiting alongside his parents for news of his safe return.

via: The Guardian

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