Yesterday was supposed to be Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking sky dive from 120,000 feet, unfortunately poor weather conditions have forced the team to push his jump back a couple of days. The Austrian-born parachustist is sponsored by Red Bull, the energy drink producer, in what is a virtually all-private research venture.
Of course Red Bull gets some sweet advertisement, but one of the purposes of this jump is to test a new space suit at such extreme altitudes. Currently, NASA uses a suit that is only rated at 100,000 (which is the approximate height of Joe Kittinger’s record-breaker over fifty years ago). According to a story from the AP, “If all goes well and [Baumgartner] survives the jump, NASA could certify a new generation of spacesuits for protecting astronauts and provide an escape option from spacecraft at 120,000 feet….”
We’re so often told that NASA has blessed us with so many modern conveniences – the microwave oven, velcro, and the notrious Tang – but that’s not really the case, as Tim Swanson explains. And as we see in the case of Baumgartner and Red Bull, it may just be the private economy providing yet another tool for government space rangers, thus proving once again that NASA isn’t indispensable to manned space flight.
The jump has been rescheduled for Thursday, although some weather reports don’t look promising. Let’s hope he can jump, and that all goes well, since they only have one balloon remaing.