The hardest part about riding a balloon up to 120,000 feet, jumping out and free-falling faster than sound before parachuting to Earth is likely to be sitting around in the pressure suit, Austrian pilot Felix Baumgartner said Wednesday.
The mission would have Baumgartner, 40, suited for five hours, including two hours of "prebreathing" oxygen to get nitrogen out of the blood, ascent and jump. His longest stint in the suit with the visor down so far is three hours and it was "terrible, to be honest."
"You don't hear any noise from the outside, so you're completely by yourself, and it's a little hard to deal with all the loneliness," he said. "You get claustrophobic."
The "Red Bull Stratos" team announced the effort in January, drawing pretty much the same initial reaction from most people, according to Baumgartner: "Are you crazy?"
His answer: "No. If you look into all these details, how much effort were putting into this project, how safe we're going to make it, ... it's far away from being crazy."
How about his parents?
"They're getting used to all these things," Baumgartner said. "Years ago, when I started skydiving when I was 16 years old, they weren't happy about it. But they found out I was doing it the safe way. The same thing when I started base jumping."
(Baumgartner is best known for being the first person to fly across the English Channel with a carbon wing in 2003.)
Another natural question is: Why?
Baumgartner sees the appeal in setting four records: free-fall speed, altitude and duration and balloon altitude.
"It also has a huge benefit for science needs in the future, because everything is into space tourism right now," Baumgartner, noting that the mission could prove that safe evacuation from such altitude is possible.
And it's inspiring people, he said. "I get letters and letters every day, and e-mails."
Where did the idea come from?
"I think every skydiver in the world has thought about this at least once," Baumgartner said. In fact, two separate groups brought the idea up to him, but he didn't feel right about them and ended up assembling his own team.
Red Bull, an Austrian company, has sponsored Baumgartner since 1988.
Baumgartner did a couple of test jumps from 25,000 feet last week and will move up to higher altitudes, working toward the ultimate jump, which he hopes to do some time this year. The tests have gone well but have turned up some issues related to the Baumgartner's limited of mobility and field of vision in the suit.
For instance, they had to come up with a system to release his chest pack on one side so he could see the landing area below. And they had to modify the parachute handles so he could tell them apart.
"On one of my test jumps I mixed them up, so I was pulling on the wrong handle all the way down," he said. "Now you can tell the difference just by the feel."
They also put mirrors on his gloves so he can see better.
"These are the details that might kill you if you don't pay enough attention," he said.
While this post addressed the "how" of getting to Mach 1, it didn't talk about slowing back down. Turns out the increasing air resistance will do that as Baumgartner descends, bringing him to the same speed as a typical skydiver by the time he opens his chute at 5,000 feet.
It's a bigger chute, because of the weight of the suit, but not really special.
So what will Baumgartner do with all that time sitting around in his suit?
"I'm still thinking about what I'm going to do," he said. "I'll think of something."
Click to view image: '3642290a04af-fbaumgartnersuit.jpg'
|Liveleak on Facebook|