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Felix Baumgartner / Joe Kittinger / Art Thompson / Marle Hewett / Jon Clark / Mike Todd / Jay Nemeth / Don Day




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Stratos PAGE 6


The protagonists 1.1 Felix Baumgartner 1.2 Joe Kittinger


Welcome Red Bull Stratos is a mission to the edge of space which will see Austrian BASE jumper and all-round daredevil Felix Baumgartner set off in a helium balloon from Roswell, New Mexico, to a height of 120,000 feet, and then come back down to Earth in free fall. Not only will he collect useful scientific data during the mission—he will also set four world records: highest manned balloon flight, the first person to go supersonic unaided, the highest free fall and the longest free fall. The Red Bulletin has followed Felix Baumgartner closely and documented his mission in great detail. Read on to find out how his out-of-this-world journey got off the ground…

In the first section we speak to Felix Baumgartner 1.1 and his mentor for this mission Joe Kittinger 1.2, who successfully pulled off a similar feat in 1960. Then we focus on the finer details of Baumgartner’s capsule 2.1, cockpit 2.2 and the onboard cameras that will document Baumgartner’s adventures 2.3. In section three we introduce the helium balloon that Baumgartner will take to the stratosphere, explain how the colossus will get itself airborne 3.1 and how Baumgartner got hold of the necessary balloonist’s license 3.2. After that we take a look at Baumgartner’s unique wardrobe 4.1 and take a peek at the history of the spacesuit 4.2. In the next section we speak to US Medical Director of Red Bull Stratos, Jonathan Clark, about the physical risks to which Baumgartner will be subjected on his journey 5.1 and take a fantastical trip to the Überworld with science-fiction author Leo Lukas 5.2. In the penultimate section we try out Baumgartner’s parachute with skydiver Luke Aikins 6.1, have Felix’s speed calculated by a physicist 6.2 and accompany him on his test jump from a height of around 13 miles 6.3. To finish off the Red Bull Stratos story we visit Roswell, New Mexico 7.0, the liftoff town for Red Bull Stratos and where, we hope, Baumgartner will land safely.



Felix’s ride upwards



The spacesuit 4.1 The haberdasher to the stars 4.2 The spacesuit through the ages



Body & Mind 5.1 Felix and his body 5.2 Sci-Fi: Überworld


2.1 The capsule 2.2 The cockpit 2.3 The cameras




Head in the clouds 3.1 The helium balloon 3.2 Baumgartner’s balloonist license



Around Roswell 7.1 The start and finish point



A leap into the unknown 6.1 The parachute 6.2 The speed of free fall 6.3 The test jump 5

1 The mission

in January 2010, Base jumper Felix Baumgartner unveiled red Bull stratos, a mission to the edge of the atmosphere and back down again. He’ll ascend by balloon and free fall back to earth, breaking world records—and the sound barrier—and gathering unprecedented data for future space exploration. it is the most daring and complex mission of its kind ever undertaken.


ed Bull Stratos is a mission to the edge of space, in which Felix Baumgartner will ascend to 23 miles in a helium balloon and come down to Earth in free fall, collecting useful scientific data, and setting four world records:

1. Break the speed of sound unaided 2. Free fall from the highest altitude 3. Longest free-fall time 4. Highest manned balloon flight

photography: Sven Hoffmann

Red Bull Stratos is following in the footsteps of Project Excelsior, when U.S. Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger (left) jumped on Aug. 16, 1960 from a height of 19 miles and barely lived to tell the tale. Kittinger is now Baumgartner’s mentor, the only man alive who can offer advice to the Austrian on a mission where the slightest error could cost him his life. This unique project has taken its participants far beyond their comfort zones. In these seven chapters, follow them through their ups and downs, learn more about the problems they faced and be inspired by the solutions they came up with. Words: Werner Jessner Photography: Balazs Gardi in this chapter the Red Bull Stratos story begins with a disarming interview 1.1 with the veteran BASE jumper and a profile of Kittinger (1.2).



Interview JaN. 2, 2012 SalZburG, auSTrIa

Before he ascends 23 miles into the stratosphere and free falls back to Earth in spectacular, record-breaking fashion, the BASE jumper was forced to face his own demons. At the high point of his life thus far, he hit an all-time low. Words: Werner Jessner photography: gian paul Lozza

THE RED BULLETIN: all went quiet on red Bull Stratos for nine months. What was going on behind the scenes? FELIX BAUMGARTNER: let’s go back to the time before the project was stopped because of a lawsuit. In December 2010 we carried out the last major tests with the spacesuit and it was clear to me that I had a problem—one I never thought I’d have—with my psyche. I had trouble putting on my space suit, and it got worse and worse. I could barely stand a couple of minutes in it. Could you describe the symptoms? The idea was that the suit should feel like a second skin, but it’ll never be like that. Your movements, your perceptions are restricted. As soon as the visor closes there’s this nightmarish silence and loneliness: The suit signifies imprisonment. We’d never thought of a test that confined me in the suit for five hours—that’s how long the entire mission should take—with the visor closed. After all my past exploits, all the extreme things I’ve done in my career, nobody would have ever guessed that simply wearing a space suit would threaten the mission— me included. In the end, it turned into panic attacks. you’re exaggerating... Not at all. When it came to the crucial pressure test at minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit, under real conditions with pressure and altitude simulated, and surrounded by cameras, air force personnel, and scientists, I realized I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t see a way around this problem. I’d easily mastered what seemed to be huge obstacles, like free fall in a pressure suit, but now my own head was letting me down. Instead of driving to Brooks [The Brooks Academy of Science and Engineering in San Antonio, Texas] to go testing, I drove to the airport




And that was? Through Mike Gervais, an American psychologist [director of performance psychology, Pinnacle Performance Center at D.I.S.C., in Southern California], who stripped me down and gave me a ‘toolbox’ of psychological tools that allowed me to learn how to master the situation. Within two weeks he coached me from 30 minutes of staying in the suit to ‘I don’t care how long I wear this thing!’ This was my greatest victory to date: I’d found the limit that I’d been looking for my whole career. No Channel flight, no cave, no Jesus statue achieved what that suit did down here at ground level. And with Mike I overcame this hurdle and—as banal as it may sound—I’m stronger than ever before.


Felix Baumgartner came to the world’s attention on April 15, 1999, when he sneaked up to the 88th floor of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur dressed as a businessman and BASE-jumped from a height of 1,480 feet, setting a new world record.


Almost eight months later, on Dec. 7, 1999, he mounted Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue and leapt off its right hand. At just 95 feet above sea level, this set a new world record for the lowest-ever BASE jump.


On July 31, 2003, Baumgartner was the first man to fly across the English Channel in free fall. He used a self-designed carbon wing, and much of this experience has been incorporated into Red Bull Stratos.


One of the most difficult jumps in his career was his 2004 BASE jump into the pitch-black bottleneck of the Marmet Cave in Croatia, a leap of 623 feet. A last-minute parachute adjustment prevented disaster.

and hightailed it out of America. I wept on the phone. It was the worst moment of my life. Until that point I’d always known how to solve all my own problems. This time, in front of everyone, I’d found my limit. Clearly, you’ve now pushed it higher. We tried several things in training because from a medical standpoint a high basic fitness would also improve my stress resistance. But really, I mean … for 20 years I’ve done the most extreme BASE jumps, I’ve flown over the English Channel [in a wing suit], I’ve shown my stress resistance without hours of ergometer sessions. The problem had to be solved another way.

So how did he do it? With heavy artillery! Mike forced me to imagine a son and trying to explain to him what Red Bull Stratos means to me. It was a tough road, but I’ll do anything if it serves my purpose. When I put the helmet on I had to describe my mental state every three minutes, on a scale of 1, which is totally relaxed, to 10, panic. At the same time I wore a heart rate monitor. The interesting thing about this was that my heart rate remained totally constant when I was between 3 and 8 on the scale. That was important to know. Next, we analyzed my routines: I’d always lost my appetite the day before putting on the suit, and this escalated into a nice little panic on the way out to our Mission Director Art Thompson. Mike used to work with a martial arts guy who regularly spiraled downwards on the drive to the arena: for him, the fight was already lost before the first hit. He identified these mechanisms and gave me tools which helped me to jump off the negative thought train before it had left the station. Such as? People can only think one thought at a time. You can jump very quickly from one thought to another, but per moment only one can be processed. So when I have a bad thought, I have to mentally exit my helmet. So, for example, I’ll spell words backwards. Nothing mysterious, just simple tools that will actually help you your whole life long. Mike also forced me to think things through to the end: What happens when someone shackles

“We thought we could buy a capsule, three balloons, and a suit and I’d throw myself down and rewrite history. Wrong.”

In detail Breaking down Red Bull Stratos 120,000 ft.

–9° F

Baumgartner jumps. It is warmer here than at any other point during the balloon ride up.

120,000 feet

Baumgartner unlocks the door of his capsule and steps out.

110,000 ft. 105,000 ft.

35 sec. later

100,000 ft.

Baumgartner will reach his maximum speed.

up to –76° F

Ferociously cold temperatures on the ascent, coldest of all in the troposphere.

92,000 ft.

92,000 feet 80,000 ft.


5 hours

Total mission duration.


Air gets denser, slowing down Baumgartner, but making him more aerodynamically sensitive. risk of flat spin greatest.

70,000 ft.

60,000 ft.


50,000 ft.


Tropopause 40,000 ft.

Troposphere 32,500 ft.

5:00 a.m.

Lift off. The morning air must be still so that the huge balloon can be inflated.



29,029 ft. MOUNT EVEREST SUMMIT 25,000 ft. 20,000 ft.

10,000 ft.

Baumgartner pulls the ripcord five-and-a-half minutes after leaving the capsule. He will land 15 minutes later.

4,921 feet Roswell, N.M.

me into my suit and I freak out? I thought I would lash out, fall into a screaming fit, and end up suffering a heart attack. Wrong: When your ‘alarm reservoir’ is exhausted, you become quieter and capable of thinking logically again. So knowing the storm will pass and that things get better gives me confidence and allows me to relax a little. Has this experience made you more humble? Not really. Perhaps more understanding of others’ weaknesses. Now, with my new insights, I’m more tolerant when other people are also not immortal or perfect. I’d never felt before that I needed outside help with my projects, either. Do you feel differently, now, about Red Bull Stratos, than you did before? My respect has increased. A couple of privateers, a BASE jumper, a soft drink company and a few daredevils got involved in the Air Force and NASA business with the belief that in three, maximum five years, we could do something that took them decades to achieve [see Joe Kittinger interview on next page.] But we were naive. We thought we could buy a capsule, three balloons, a suit, and that I would just throw myself down and we’d write history. Wrong. It’s much bigger than that. We’re not competing against Ferrari or McLaren, and we’re not up against NASA or the Air Force. We’re practicing science. We’re pioneers, constantly entering new territory. Our project is so huge and there are things happening on so many different levels and each of them not only has to work individually, but also in conjunction with all the other levels. When one cog breaks in a clock, the whole mechanism stops.

illustration: albert exergian

In my beautiful big balloon From a cigar to a beach ball. At launch, the balloon will be very thin, but 551 feet tall. As the external air pressure decreases on ascent, it changes to a spherical shape about 400 feet in diameter.

Like when the lawyers get involved… In December 2010 I’d stocked my toolbox, all the testing had gone well, and the project could have taken off again. Then came the legal case. Problem solved but project halted. And then … project ended! After receiving the call to tell me it was all off, I drove around aimlessly for four hours. Bruce Springsteen was playing on the radio, I remember. I’d been in boot camp for a month and now the war was over without even a single shot being fired. Twice in quick succession my feet had been yanked out from under me. What did you do? I could have drowned in self-pity, but instead I threw myself into my second field of expertise, flying helicopters.




Speed in free fall

Expected Red Bull Stratos velocity: Mach 1, equivalent at altitude to 689 mph Current record: Mach 0.9, equivalent at altitude to 614 mph, set by Joe Kittinger, 1960.


Height of free fall

Expected distance: 114,829 feet* Current record: 102,798 feet, Joe Kittinger, 1960.


Time in free fall

Expected duration: 5 minutes 35 seconds Current record: 4 minutes and 36 seconds, set by Joe Kittinger.


Highest manned balloon flight

Expected height: 120,000 feet Current record: 113,737 feet, Victor Prather and Malcolm Ross; May 4, 1961. * Felix Baumgartner will pull the ripcord about 4,921 feet above ground.

I worked as a professional pilot, earning seven helicopter ratings, doing mountain training, and notching up hours and hours of flying time. And I never gave up on the project. I knew that someday I would swap my pilot’s overalls for the space suit again. How did everyone around you react to the red light on the project? It was interesting how many people came out with their real opinion—even my own mother: ‘Actually we’re relieved you’re not jumping.’ I told her she shouldn’t get used to the idea that Red Bull Stratos was dead. It was still clear to me that one day I’d float up, climb into the capsule, and hurtle down to Earth, breaking the sound barrier on the way. Switching from professional pilot to ‘stratonaut’: how hard was that? Easy! I’d mentally stored the spacesuit away in a box, and now I’ve unpacked it again. Was there a positive aspect to the break? Definitely. It allowed us to restructure a couple of procedures, and now there’s a different spirit. In the meantime we regularly reach our interim goals, which is very different from when we started. Obviously we still have screw-ups, but we learn from them and put them into practice. To give you one example: During the first unmanned test flight, it was important that the balloon took off no later than 7:30 a.m., before the wind got up. The first time, the balloon company packed the balloon into the case incorrectly. Fixing it took 25 minutes, and when we eventually got airborne at 8 a.m., the wind took our balloon. This giant, which had hovered for a couple of minutes, died right before our eyes. It’s not the big things that break the camel’s back, but the little things that no one thinks about. And that’s what can damage morale. Correct. I want a red rotating beacon in the command center and as soon as I’m in my suit the light flashes. That means no more coffee drinking, no more texting. Safety comes from repetition— every elite unit drills its soldiers until every move can be done blindfold. Once the mission is underway, there are enough factors that can’t be influenced. But only you can influence yourself. We’re standing in the limelight here, with the world watching— there’s no room for error. When you think about the big day, what do you picture in your mind? Extreme discipline and perfection. When you know the camera is on you, you even clean your teeth differently. The pressure is huge, and we have to not only endure it but excel. We’re entering a test, and we’re excellently prepared. But it’s never going to be a fun day—I’m risking my life, after all. As far as is possible, I’ll try to grasp the sheer irrevocability of the moment: ‘I’ll never come back up here; I’ll never put on the suit again; never again will I climb into the capsule; we’ll never work this way as a team again.’ 11

There are examples where Olympic winners stand on the podium and feel disappointment. Because they had imagined this moment, for which they had trained so many years, to be more beautiful. I’ll try to avoid this by enjoying the journey. What do you think you’ll be doing a year from now? Either I won’t be able to leave my house because I’ve disappointed everyone, or

Colonel Joe

Before the space age dawned, Joseph Kittinger took a leap from where no man had leapt before. More than 50 years later, he’s become a valuable resource to another stratosphere pioneer. Words: Herbert Völker

“I’ve spent 25 years turning my visions into reality. My career without this jump would be like a house without a door.” because of the huge crowds outside. Both are possible. When the dust has settled I’d like to celebrate Christmas 2012 with my team: Joe Kittinger is 84 years old; the average age of my team is around 70. This is the family with whom I’ve spent the past five years, and this family won’t be around much longer—you don’t have to be clairvoyant to realize this. I want to rent a house, where we put up a Christmas tree, and Joe’s wife cooks a turkey, we hold hands around the table and thank God that our mission together went well and we’re all still alive. I would like that.

Early ’60s space travel style: Joe Kittinger looks mighty comfortable in his stratosphere suit. Credit

And if not? Then it’s very likely I’ll have a problem. The end of a career without this jump would be like a house without a door. I’ve been turning my ideas and visions into reality for 25 years, and I believe I’ll also achieve my last great sporting goal.


1.2 Joseph Kittinger

Interview May 13, 2009


Albuquerque, N.M.

Not matter how much time passes a colonel will always be a colonel. It doesn’t matter if you’re over 80, as Joe Kittinger is, and the wiry body of your youth has long eased itself into a more comfortable shape. It’s that mix of self-confidence and calm, the intensity of an earlier time mellowing slightly with age. Of the 10 thousand things that have been said about him, one sticks out for how off-the-mark it sounds in retrospect: “More guts than brains.” It comes from the shreds of a long-ago discussion, exploited later by the media, when Kittinger was already famous. Joe, the officer and test pilot, put his hand up for a project and his boss said, “Approved. More guts than brains.” This, it turned out, wasn’t a judgement about Kittinger, but about the pioneering days of space travel when men took massive risks and knew little of what might go on up there. Kittinger, as mentioned, is mellow, and he won’t mind you saying it. Today, with a sense of unruffled certainty, he reckons he was the first person in outer space, before Yuri Gagarin, before Alan Shepard. Of course he knows that the discussion is still open (where does space begin?), but the conditions in the stratosphere would be ‘space equivalent’ when it comes to the survival of man. Upward of 12 miles, the atmospheric pressure is so low that without a pressure suit, human blood would begin to boil. Kittinger went much higher. You could call him a pre-astronaut. He would like that. During the Cold War in the 1950s, the U.S. military dismissed space travel as science fiction. NASA was non-existent and the U.S. Air Force experimented at its own expense. A bunch of specialists simply wanted to understand how high you could go and whether you could survive for a short while in the stratosphere. To get up there, it had to be a balloon. No plane

would reach anywhere near that height. In 1957, in one of those balloons, Captain Joseph Kittinger ascended to just under 99,000 feet in the stratosphere and returned safely to Earth. The country applauded him as the first man in space, but more as the hero of an exotic expedition without larger meaning. Just six months later that image changed. The Russians sent their unmanned Sputnik satellite into orbit around the Earth, unleashing the idea of a “threat from outer space” and heralding a halfway peaceful competition in space, but a competition, nonetheless. The government threw billions into missile research and NASA was founded. In the few years between the Sputnik shock and NASA’s Mercury Project, the U.S. Air Force continued testing technical and medical factors of space travel, while entertaining the threat from Russia in their hearts and minds. Under this pretext, Kittinger’s next plunge, on Aug. 16, 1960, became the most important milestone in the exploration of the stratosphere. Three of the records he set back then still stand today, half a century later: Highest parachute jump: 102,516 feet Fastest person in free fall: 614 mph Longest free fall: 4 minutes, 36 seconds These are still the targets for Felix Baumgartner. Higher, longer, faster—and the sound barrier, which Kittinger only just failed to break back then. It’s incredible that these records remain unbroken after more than 50 years. NASA, and the Soviets continued with rockets, which they dubbed research (or conquest) of space, and reached altitudes that are only possible with missiles. Nevertheless, the stratosphere at the edge of outer space has always been of interest to Earthlings. The helium balloon is still the only means of hanging around up there for a while, unlike with a plane or missile. The temptation is there to set records for sheer sporting value, but also with

There was no NASA in the mid-1950s; the Air Force experimented at its own expense.

(Right) Kittinger in the stratosphere: “There is a contrast between beauty and peril, a fine line between rapture and icy danger at 70 degrees below zero.”

a scientific twist. The more projects that failed during the decades since Kittinger’s jump, the more his monolithic figure rose out of history and legends.

By the way, the surname Kittinger is pronounced with a hard ‘g,’ not like the politician Henry Kissinger, a man much closer to his German forefathers but who still chose the English pronunciation. Kittinger’s great-great-grandfather was 14 years old at the time of his family’s emigration to America in 1783. The Kittingers came from the Zurich area in Switzerland, where they grew potatoes. They moved to Pennsylvania and did what they knew best. They became potato farmers, went forth, and multiplied. Today, there are a good many Kittingers scattered around the country, but only one Joe who climbed out of a balloon’s gondola to flirt briefly with the speed of sound. There are many parallels between what Kittinger experienced in 1960 and what awaits Baumgartner now. Mental coaching is not one of them. Methods have become more sophisticated since Joe was locked inside a box measuring 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet for 24 hours as part of a claustrophobia test. “It’s like being in a coffin,” he remembers, “cramped and pitch black, but you can overcome claustrophobia with discipline. The fact that I wouldn’t be in the program if I didn’t come out with a positive result was motivation enough for me.” Baumgartner’s first pressure chamber test in a space suit was, in fact, more technically sophisticated, but for someone not used to getting oxygen stuffed into him until it came out of his ears, the impact was comparable to what Kittinger went through. Though the two have different backgrounds, they share more in common. Kittinger was a drilled balloon pilot, but his parachute training was only in the case of an aircraft emergency, where he’d tumble out like a sack of potatoes with a survival kit on his back. Baumgartner has 3,000 jumps under his belt— he’s an acrobat of the air—but he had to learn a lot about balloons. As a fighter pilot, Kittinger had spent enough time at an altitude of 50,000 feet. Nothing works there without a pressure suit, which he donned like we do a pair of jeans—well, maybe with a little more care. He endured hundreds of stints in the pressure chamber. Before his famed leap he had eight years’ worth of tailor-made suits behind him. Pressure suits are extremely stiff; every movement of the arm or leg is a major production in itself. For an extreme sports personality like Baumgartner, such restrictions are unfamiliar. Before learning how to move in a new way, he first had to cope mentally with the pressure chamber and the space suit. “If you can’t get used to the pressure suit in every situation, you’re dead,” says Kittinger. Ballooning is basically the same for both Kittinger and Baumgartner, but the latter’s balloon will have almost 10 times the volume; that’s how much is needed to get the extra 15,000 feet in height. There is also a mutual anguish. Aeronauts and astronauts 14

He went into a flat spin, bade life farewell ... and came to again 12 miles lower, hanging from the hooks of his parachute.

“Before I jumped I said ‘Lord, take care of me now.’ And when my parachute opened I sent up a very polite thank you to the same address.”

photography: getty images (2)

call it “flat spinning,” which outside of their worlds is just called spinning. Nobody in the world knows more about it than Kittinger. During one of his trial jumps, he experienced a rotational velocity of 200 rpm, when 140 rpm is regarded as fatal for a human. He was pushing the boundaries of newly-discovered expertise, hit a glitch, and experienced the total helplessness of going into a flat spin, propeller-like, bade life farewell, lost consciousness and came to again 12 miles lower, hanging from the hooks of his emergency chute. Spinning remains the greatest danger to stratosphere jumpers, despite all the advances in technology. Leaping into a vacuum means that the body doesn’t come up against any airflow or drag. Movements practiced a thousand times by an athlete in peak condition literally fall into space. After the first 1.5 miles of his 1960 jump, Kittinger managed to release a small parachute for stabilization. It didn’t slow him down, but it prevented him from spinning. His main chute opened 15 miles further down, in the now thicker air. What can Kittinger tell us today about the edge of space? How should Earthlings imagine the mood in the stratosphere? “There is a contrast between beauty and peril, a fine line between rapture and icy danger at 70 degrees below zero. You can’t feel a vacuum, but still it’s there— eerie, hostile. You can see the Earth over a distance of 500 miles, the skies above are jet black, toward the horizon you glimpse every shade of blue.” What do you mean? How can the sky be black in the daytime? “The light up there is not diffused, it only looks blue to us because of reflection. In a vacuum there is neither reflection nor light above you. You can’t even see the stars, your eyes are dazzled, which makes your pupils contract.” At the highest point, you stayed with the

balloon for at least nine minutes. Did you experience any form of high-altitude euphoria? Is there the danger of an uncontrolled adrenaline rush? “No. The hostility of space is perceptible at all times, and an overdose of oxygen doesn’t give you a feeling of euphoria. The eerie silence does the rest.” How lonely do you feel up there? “I was a test pilot, and I was trained as one. I had visualized the jump a thousand times in my head, so when the time came, I was ready for it.” And the jump itself, the speed during free fall? How do you perceive 620 mph? “You don’t perceive it, there is no wind that can whip past you. Initially there is only the relief of not going into a spin, but after two minutes the clouds hurtle towards you, and you have to tell yourself very persuasively that they’re only made of vapor.” Did you say anything on the way out of the balloon gondola? “Just before I jumped I said, ‘Lord, take care of me now.’ And when my parachute opened I sent up a very polite thank you to the same address.” Will you feel a twinge of melancholy when you see Baumgartner erase your own record? “No. It was never about records back then. We went up to research the possibilities of making an emergency escape at this altitude. So I never took much interest in documenting my achievements with a sporting authority or anyone else for that matter.” After an experience like that, didn’t you feel an overwhelming desire to join one of the missions flying to the moon? “When Project Mercury got underway, I did have the chance to put my hand up, but I didn’t and I’ve never looked back and thought, ‘I wish I’d been a Mercury astronaut and flown to the moon.’ I was very happy with everything I had accomplished.” Although he had every right to be, Kittinger was anything but lazy afterwards. As commander of an F-4 squadron he fought in Vietnam, shot down a MiG, was shot down himself, and spent a year as a prisoner of war in the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison. But he doesn’t talk much about that. In 1978, he retired from the U.S. Air Force and dedicated himself to ballooning. Because, as he puts it, “You don’t want to go stale when you retire,” Kittinger in 1984 made the first solo crossing of the Atlantic in a balloon, setting the world distance record at the time for solo balloon flight. At 84, fit and alert and brimming with expertise on the subjects of thick and thin air, Colonel Joe will sit next to engineers and doctors at the command post when Baumgartner sets out on his record-breaking journey. They’ll be glad he’s there.

2 T

he heart of Red Bull Stratos beats in Lancaster, Calif., a two-hour drive north of Los Angeles in the high desert. Here, near Edwards Air Force Base, the aeronautics firm Sage Cheshire is based. In two nondescript warehouses on the outskirts of town, engineer Art Thompson and his small team of specialists are working on a mission that seeks to test the physical and psychological boundaries of mankind at the edge of space. Involving an experienced Austrian BASE jumper, a balloon the size of a 79-story building, and an ascent of 23 miles into the stratosphere, Red Bull Stratos is one of the more ambitious space ventures in recent history. Crucial to the success of the project is the capsule Thompson and his team have designed to ferry Felix Baumgartner high enough for his record-breaking jump. His protection against a world without air, the capsule crams high-tech into a few square feet in a manner rarely seen in civilian life (only the military and aerospace industry even come close). The following pages offer an exclusive first look at Baumgartner’s inner sanctum and his life support system in a hostile place.


A tiny space in space The capsule that will take Felix Baumgartner 23 miles up for a record-breaking jump began as an empty sphere and an IKEA chair. Words: Werner Jessner Photography: Balazs Gardi


IN THIS CHAPTER we discover why a balloon is the best way to reach the stratosphere (2.0), look at the capsule that Baumgartner will travel in (2.1), inspect his workstation (2.2) and marvel at the onboard cameras (2.3).

Real conditions


To test the capsule and the space suit, the team simulated temperatures as low as -76 degrees Fahrenheit and very low external pressure in an altitude chamber.





Spaceship or balloon?


ometimes coincidence is the best manufacturer. My aeronautical work, says Art Thompson, included the roles I played for Northrop Grumman on the B-2 Stealth Bomber and similar projects for the Air Force and NASA. But my other company is called A2ZFX and builds event infrastructure like bars and DJ stands. We also do movie stuff like Batman, Die Hard, The X-Files, and Contact. My friend Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom I know through my work in film, was hosting the Taurus Stunt Awards, where Felix Baumgartner won a prize for his flight across the English Channel. I went to the awards show and met Felix. Just a couple of months later I flew to

Linz, Austria, for Art of Kart, a cart race in support of the charity Wings for Life, where I represented Team USA, and Felix represented Team Austria. (Sadly, I can’t remember who won now.) After that we moved on to the Hungaroring race circuit in Hungary, where Felix was driving a Formula One car and I had some friends there driving Porsches. We got to know each other, one thing led to the next, and we ended up becoming friends. A couple of days after I got back to California, the phone rang. It was 6 p.m. my time. “Felix, isn’t it like 3:30 in the morning?” “Well, yeah, Art, I just left my girlfriend’s house and I have a question for you … If you wanted to break Joe Kittinger’s record from more than 19 miles up, how would you go about it?” That’s what Felix is like. When he’s involved in something, then he’s on the ball 24/7. So it was time to make a couple of calls to friends from the old days. The next day I called Rick Searfoss, a former NASA commander who’d flown on the space shuttles Columbia and Atlantis and had experience as a test pilot. When he left NASA, he became the chief judge for the Ansari X-PRIZE for the first private spaceship in history. We got together and started conceptualizing with a friend of mine Erik, a great designer. To break the records Joe Kittinger set in 1960 (when he parachuted from 102,800 feet) we worked on two solutions for getting a man more than 20 miles up into the stratosphere. There’s always the traditional method—using a balloon, capsule, and a space suit to take him up to altitude—or the other way would be a rocket plane. Rick thought that if we wanted to succeed, we’d have to buy the shell from Scaled Composites and the rocket propulsion from XCOR, which are both specialized firms based in the Mojave Desert working on private spacecraft. Our

Art Thompson, Mission Director for Red Bull Stratos on the brainstorming session that led to the design of the capsule.


Spaceship or balloon?

heads were spinning as we worked out the costs. Plus, there was a whole range of unsolved—perhaps even unsolvable— problems. We’d have to catapult Felix out of the spacecraft 23 miles up, then get the hatch shut again and get him and the craft back down to Earth safely. Together with Felix and Red Bull, we decided to go for the “old-fashioned,” “romantic,” “classic” top-end balloon

option. You can’t go much higher than our height of about 23 miles in a balloon, as beyond that things start to get unpredictable. Our balloon is big enough to fill a large stadium as it is. Anything bigger would be absurdly complicated to handle. So we can be pretty sure that there will never be another person who will ever go one better than our mission under comparable conditions.

Air mix-a-lot While Baumgartner gets 100 percent oxygen through his helmet, the atmosphere inside the capsule consists of an oxygen-nitrogen mix, which is carefully monitored and adjusted. Inside the capsule there are 0.5 bars of pressure. As external pressure will constantly decrease as he climbs, the pressure inside his capsule will need to be continually reduced as well.



The Capsule



hysics has decided the layout of the Red Bull Stratos capsule. The survival cell, which will have an atmospheric pressure of 8 psi (0.5 bars) throughout the ascent, is spherical, the best shape for handling physical stress. The size (6 feet in diameter) was dictated by the need for a 4-foot door that allows Baumgartner to get out of the capsule comfortably and securely wearing his space suit and parachute. The original idea of making the pod out of carbon had to be abandoned very quickly; a carbon pod would have expanded in such extreme cold and an almost total absence of oxygen, whereas the door, due to be made of a transparent, acrylicbased plastic, would have shrunk. Hence the pod was made out of a fiberglass composite, just like in the old days. The mechanism for opening the door is ingenious in its simplicity and efficiency. It rolls on a larger rail on its underside and a smaller rail overhead and leans back about 10 degrees. That makes opening it easy and energy-efficient for Baumgartner. This simple construction, impermeable thanks to straightforward pressure and three silicon seals, has another advantage: If the pressure within the capsule should fall for whatever reason, Baumgartner can use the air from his pressurized suit to repressurize the door, wedging his feet against the inside of the door to help seal it. The survival pod is surrounded

and supported by pipes made of chromium molybdenum steel; it’s an easy-to-treat, easy-to-weld, robust material that has proved its worth millions of times over in everything from mountain biking to stock-car racing. The Gemini shape of the overall unit was dictated by a need for extra space. The six 12-volt, space-tested batteries for onboard voltage are stored underneath the pod; they are similar to truck engine batteries and are packed in thick polystyrene for thermal isolation. Also bunched together here so as to occupy as little space as possible are the oxygen and nitrogen and all the hardware that doesn’t need a protective atmosphere to work. It’s important to understand that the capsule consists of two completely unconnected worlds. The one inside the pod has a breathable atmosphere; the one outside is utterly at the mercy of drops in temperature and atmosphere as altitude increases. When building the pod, the team had to think very carefully about which components could be stuck outside and which ones had to be stored within. Obviously, where those two worlds meet—every cable, every circuit that connects those inner and outer worlds—are particular sources of potential danger. That’s why there are as few of them as possible. The cylinder attached to the pod

accommodates the technology behind the cameras and can do pretty much the same things as a 36-ton broadcast truck standing outside of a football stadium. The side covering is made of polystyrene about 4 inches thick and covered in hard plastic. The individual sheets can be removed very easily; the outer-shell structure is basically like a stall. There’s no need for the construction to be more sophisticated than that. And why should there be? There are no particular forces at play on the outer layer either on the way up or on the way down with the parachute; we have to do away with any thoughts we might have of ceramic tiles that the space shuttles had as a re-entry heat shield. Baumgartner will climb at an average of 1,000 feet per minute; there’s no comparison with spacecraft returning from orbit. What you can’t see in the pictures is the crush pad on the bottom of the capsule; approximately 20 inches of cardboard in a honeycomb pattern will cushion the impact upon landing when, once Baumgartner has jumped from the capsule, the balloon will be cut by remote control and the capsule will hurtle to Earth and land under control thanks to the parachute. It all went perfectly in the initial tests; the momentum of the impact was measured at 6.8G at the lower end of the force calculated; anything up to 10G would be fine.

Size matters Measuring 48 inches, the exit aperture is just big enough for Baumgartner to climb out comfortably in his pressurized suit and parachute. A seat belt similar to those in passenger planes will prevent him from standing up to his full height during the ascent. Baumgartner will only be able to stretch out once he’s in the open.



When he reaches 23 miles, he’ll be able to see the Earth’s curvature through that window.


Command Central



e wanted to give Felix something to do on his way up there,” says Marle Hewett, 74, with a grin. Hewett looks like your standard, contented Florida retiree. He is, of course, anything but. The current Red Bull Stratos Program Manager and Senior Flight Test Engineer has been a test pilot, led the U.S. Naval Academy Aerospace Engineering Department, served as a Navy commander, and fought in Vietnam as a fighter pilot. The last distinction he shares with Joe Kittinger, who in 1960 set the three records in his jump at the edge of the stratosphere that Baumgartner is trying to break this year. Veterans of Kittinger and Hewett’s caliber have seen a good deal and a guy like Marle Hewett isn’t easily impressed. He’s used to the idea that the people around him know what to do. His presence on the team demonstrates the professionalism of the mission. A veteran of his stature doesn’t want amateurs around. His judgment of Baumgartner is simple and brief: “Smart



Baumgartner follows Mission Control’s orders. He’ll intervene in an emergency.

Every system is duplicated, with both remote and manual controls.

The old space saying of “keep it simple and remember to back it up” applies to every element of the Red Bull Stratos capsule.

The procedure for climbing out alone incorporates 36 points, of which the last one is “Jump!”

guy, adaptive, willing, tough, focused. Impressive in the air—his helicopter training shines through. The right man for this mission.” Baumgartner’s capsule has multiple areas, clearly separated from each other spatially and functionally. Because the space suit hinders his movement so much, favorable cockpit ergonomics were essential. Early conceptual models of the capsule were true prototype constructions: An IKEA office chair and foam blocks were moved around inside an egg shape made out of plywood until a harmonious, ergonomically functional layout emerged. Only then did they

Red Bull Stratos Program Manager Marle Hewett was a pilot in Vietnam. The engineer later worked for the U.S. Navy and NASA.

actually begin constructing the inside. At the top right are the controls for the balloon—just five switches. Every system is redundant and has been duplicated. Specialists from the German firm Riedel Communications look after the connections between Mission Control and the capsule, a piece of the puzzle whose significance for the success of Red Bull Stratos can’t be overestimated. The large box in the area next to Baumgartner’s left knee contains around 80 circuit breakers, which allow every single function for the entire capsule to be switched on and off. Though the mission is operated by the Red Bull Stratos team on the ground, Baumgartner can intervene manually and deactivate or restart individual circuits if anything goes wrong. There’s an old space saying: Keep it simple and remember to back up. Baumgartner has to know the position and function of every single circuit breaker by heart and be able to find it with his eyes closed. Directly above this impressively complicated-looking switchbox is a foldable control panel that shows the most important data for the balloon’s




“The drinks holder has space for five bottles—all absolutely necessary due to the dehydrating effect of pure oxygen. I can still just about reach them in the space suit from here.”




“This console has the two valves for oxygen and nitrogen, plus pressure gauges that show me the level and composition of the air inside the capsule.”

Memory game So how does one while away the hours in that little capsule? Endless routine, says Thompson, is the best safety mechanism. In preparation for his jump, Baumgartner has memorized the location and function of each and every switch by heart, and takes a moment to guide us around his future home.


“Without this lever there’d be no getting out of the capsule. It releases the door mechanism. Then I fix the door in open position using a red lock on the floor."



“This is my dashboard and rear-view mirror all in one. The small gauge on my left gives me basic data on my position, and I can choose from nine different camera angles on the screen next to it.”


“At the top left are the valves to control the balloon in case of an emergency, and they’re secured behind locks so that I don’t accidentally operate them.”

Circuit breaker

“There are about 80 switches on two panels with which I can switch off (and back on) every single electric circuit in the whole capsule.”


“During the mission, I’ll be in permanent contact with ground control. It’ll just be Joe Kittinger at the other end of the line. There are two radio connections with dual design, which means I can talk and receive at the same time.”


Command Central

journey. On the adjacent monitor, Baumgartner can switch between nine camera positions. That’s important, because with his mobility restricted by the space suit he’s more or less blind without the cameras (despite the three mirrors in the capsule and another mounted on his glove). On the floor to the left is space for an additional oxygen bottle that will ensure 30 minutes’ air supply, even in a scenario where all other systems shut down completely. The lever on the ground to the right decompresses the capsule, and the door can be rolled to the side and locked into place with a red lock on the floor to hold it in place. (Getting locked out of your own capsule isn’t ideal if an emergency requires you to go back in.) To Baumgartner’s right are the atmosphere controls: Two vents allow him to regulate the air pressure and composition. He breathes in pure oxygen. The air that he breathes out in the suit and subsequently out to the capsule still has a high oxygen quotient. But the composition of the capsule air can’t include more than 20 to 22 percent oxygen. Any more than that would be too dangerous—a single spark could send the entire capsule up in flames. To keep the mixture right, Baumgartner has to mix in nitrogen as a neutralizer. If a fire should break out on board, there’s only one way of putting it out: If the balloon is high enough, opening a door will snuff out the fire, as the lack of atmosphere would deprive it of the oxygen it needs. To the right behind the seat, in brackets on the floor, are five drinking bottles with straws that are fed into the helmet through an airtight flap. Human lungs are best suited to breathing air


Altitude control Baumgartner uses two altimeters positioned on his right side to monitor his ascent. A third of the way through his journey, he’ll have surpassed the altitude at which transcontinental airlines fly. When the balloon reaches a height of 23 miles, valves open automatically and restrict it from ascending any further, protecting him from the intense pressure of higher altitudes.

with 100 percent relative humidity. Pure oxygen dries out the body at a dramatic rate, starting with the lungs, so Baumgartner has to drink constantly to prevent that. Of course, what goes into the body must come out, so he wears a kind of condom under the space suit, connected by a tube to a reservoir under the seat that collects urine. The seat itself comes from a trophy truck—the most stable thing you’ll find in

“In any case I’ve built in three windows,” says Art Thompson, smiling. “No other spacecraft has such a good view.”

racing. To allow Baumgartner to sit with the parachute on his back, the seat was extended a foot and a half forward. The length adjustment (for which the lever lies on the right-hand side of the seat, diagonally behind the door release) is necessary so that Baumgartner can climb out of the capsule in his pressurized suit. The interior design? Well, there are high-quality video cameras (see next page), a stylish ceiling lamp, and a carpet of blue LEDs. The last was a demand by the film crew so that the cameras would be able to cope with the contrast between the rising sun 23 miles above the ground and the relative dark of the capsule interior. “In any case I’ve built in three windows,” says Thompson, smiling. “No other spacecraft has such a good view.”





ur bread-andbutter camera is the space-ready HD video camera we’ve modified to suit our requirements. In space, you can forget normal capacitors: We had to exchange them all for spaceready models. You can’t just buy them in the shop; instead you get them from specialized suppliers who work with the military or NASA. Otherwise we’ve adapted the standard settings of the cameras, like the shutter speed, which we reduced to a normal setting to reduce the staccato Saving Private Ryan look. It should look as natural as possible, with a healthy amount of motion blur. In total we have nine of these HD cameras on board. Two of them are inside the capsule: One is trained on Felix from the front, another looks over his shoulder. For one thing that ensures spectacular pictures, but it also allows the team to monitor Felix’s ascent. If the parachute becomes tangled, Mission Control will see it and can warn Felix. He carries two HD cameras on the suit, one looking up, the other looking down. There’s also a Go-Pro mounted on the chest pack he wears and pointing at him, allowing a 110-degree view of Felix during free fall. For the narrative and for the viewers’ understanding, it’s important that you can look him in the eye during the mission (through a lowered visor, at least) and later on, to see how the parachute opens. Of the exterior cameras, I’d like to highlight the ones mounted on arms in airtight aluminum housing. We packed an HD camera, photo camera (Canon 5D with 14mm wide-angle lens), and a RED in the housing. The RED shoots at 4,000 frames per second, suitable for IMAX movie theaters and delivers the best quality imaginable today. We’ve modified

our RED cameras so that we can use standard Canon single-lens-reflex lenses. It’s pretty tight in these aluminum cylinders, which each weigh 55 pounds and can stand internal pressure of three times what they will experience in the vacuum of near-space. We draw out all the oxygen and moisture from the cylinders and create a 100 percent nitrogen atmosphere. You have to do that so they don’t fog up. The RED cameras especially produce a huge amount of heat, and the ventilators require a kind of air to fan them. The heat exchanger functions on a glycol basis. The

Jay Nemeth is in charge of Red Bull Stratos images. For 25 years he’s been filming everything that flies. He’s also completed a parabolic flight, which means he’s handled a Zero-G environment and managed, in his own words, “not to vomit all over the other crew members.”

Triple eye Red Bull Stratos has one still camera, one HD camera, and one digital camera mounted on arms on the capsule exterior. They’ll be responsible for the most spectacular pictures. During the ascent the still camera takes a photo every 10 seconds. When Baumgartner steps out, it will begin shooting continuously.


Cameras technology isn’t new—it’s also been used, for example, to film rocket launches from below—but as far as I know, no one’s used it at an altitude of 23 miles. All the information the cameras capture is collected in the upper part of the capsule. The technology we have here is something like a complete outside broadcast vehicle, including microwave downlink. There are nine HD recorders, nine camera controllers, multiplexers, converters, audio elements, voltage regulators, circuit breakers, telemetry, coolers, and remote controls


for everything. I don’t think so many elements have ever been brought together in such a small space before. The cabling for the whole thing is a real achievement: The camera unit is connected to the control panel inside the capsule with a 128-bit interface. While we want to spare Felix the effort, he must be in a position to assume manual operation of the cameras if there are problems with operating remotely. Therefore we’ve modified the recorders so that they can either be operated remotely or automatically go into recording mode as soon as the power is connected. Here we’re working with a backup for the backup; we simply can’t afford the possibility that there’s nothing saved on the chips once Felix jumps. In total we generate three terabytes of data through the onboard cameras alone, and the memory rate has been reduced from 100 to a still-excellent 50 megabytes per second due to limited storage. Conventional hard drives with moving

parts are a no-no. They simply wouldn’t work in the stratosphere. If they’re outside of the capsule atmosphere, they are subject to near-vacuum conditions and extremely low temperatures without protection.

Picture carousel The centerpiece in documenting Red Bull Stratos is as well-equipped as a broadcast truck and still fits in the top of the capsule. It will record three terabytes of data. Because there’s no point in all those cameras if the footage isn’t saved, the record button can be pressed remotely.

Your favourite artists share their personal playlists: Headphone Highlights on

The Red Bull Stratos helium balloon holds around 30 million cubic feet of gas, stretches over the wingspan of three Boeing 777s at takeoff, and transports Felix Baumgartner three times higher than the cruising altitude of the world’s largest airliner. The logistics and precision behind the balloon liftoff are breathtaking. Words: Werner Jessner




Raising the giant

THIS CHAPTER is all about the balloon that will take Baumgartner into the stratosphere. 3.1 Balloon Tech: How and when to launch. 3.2 Ticket to Ride: Felix Baumgartner obtains his balloon license.


Balloon Tech: How and when to launch


ity the meteorologist, that most common of all scapegoats. “We’re always to blame,” says Don Day. “It’s part of our job description.” Of course, the Cheyenne, Wyo. weatherman’s modesty is misleading. Day is a vital linchpin of the Red Bull Stratos team, and Felix Baumgartner and co. are consistently impressed by his uncanny accuracy. The trick? More than simply weather prediction, Day practices weather “precalculation.” “Many factors must come together to get a balloon of this dimension off the ground,” he says. “Firstly, no wind. We can’t have more than 2 mph at ground level, and with our three weather balloons at an altitude of 200 feet, 4 mph is the limit. Even in a region that is perfect for balloon starts, like New Mexico, you only get this sort of calm just before sunrise. “Secondly, you need none or very few clouds, the lowest possible humidity. Over the entire surface of the balloon, water droplets very quickly add up to become a burden of several thousand pounds. Third, we need good visibility. And fourth, on the way up, there must not be any strong winds which could push Felix far off course. “Only when these parameters are met can I give the OK and Red Bull Stratos can lift off.” For this, Day has data covering 130,000 feet of altitude available to him—the highest ascertainable point for meteorology, even higher than Baumgartner will climb. By combining computer-calculated weather simulations, data from various weather balloons at different altitudes, stored recordings, and finally a smidgen of meteorological genius, it is possible to form a prognosis three days prior to the start: Be prepared to lift off on Wednesday. Beginning 24


hours before the start, the prognosis is so precise that Day can be persuaded to talk about “90 percent accuracy.” Whether today is the big day must be decided eight hours before takeoff. It actually takes that long to run the entire start procedure. The man who gets the balloon airborne is Launch Crew Chief Ed Coca. While he may be an old hand in the business, he hasn’t seen many ventures like the one planned by Red Bull Stratos. “After all,” he says, “it’s not every day you get such a huge balloon off the ground.” How many 30 million cubic feet balloons has he launched before? “This is my first.” Four and a half hours before the start, Coca calls Day to find out the exact direction of any possible breezes (no more than 2 mph). The balloon, the capsule parachute, and the capsule— together known as the “flight train”—are all connected and spread out accordingly

“It’s not every day that you get such a huge balloon off the ground.” on the airfield in Roswell, N.M., with the capsule attached to a crane. To ensure controlled launch, the light breeze permitted should ideally blow directly against the capsule, and on no account from the opposite direction or at an angle to the runway. The Red Bull Stratos balloon is made of a gossamer-thin, transparent polyethylene film that is reminiscent of the type used for drycleaner bags. The thickness of the envelope wall varies, but at any given place it’s substantially less than 0.05 of an inch. Construction of the balloon, as you might well imagine, is a task that requires exacting precision. There is no

Waking up the Giant How do you erect a thing as high as a 75-story building in just one hour’s time? This is how.

Inflation 1. One hour prior to take-off, hoses leading from two trucks, carrying 360,000 cubic feet of helium between them, are used to begin inflating the balloon. 2. A launch arm keeps the balloon in place. Inflation goes from top to bottom. 3. The top of the balloon starts to rise. 4. Launch arm slowly moves the balloon along its length.


Helium is lighter than air. The top of the balloon rises.

Helium comes in through two inflation hoses. Helium is brought in two large trailers.

The balloon is under a balloon restraint.



1. The launch arm releases the balloon. 2. A crane still holds down the bottom of the balloon with the capsule. 3. The balloon rises into fully upright position. 4. With the balloon at an angle of approximately 10-20 degrees, the capsule is released. 5. The crane maneuvers the capsule exactly under the center of the balloon.

The crane moves the capsule under the balloon center.

This is the ‘train’ with the parachute that will bring the capsule safely down.

C Takeoff

After the removal of the launch arm the balloon fully rises.

1. The crane releases the capsule. 2. Red Bull Stratos takes off.


At an angle of 20 degrees, matters start to get delicate.

Weather balloons indicate wind directions.

The capsule is held by a crane. Baumgartner is already seated inside his capsule.


Even one hole in the balloon, no matter how small, can spell trouble, so it’s scanned with a special light.

HELIUM Lighter Than Air Helium (He) is a colorless, tasteless, nontoxic noble gas. It is the second lightest and second most abundant element in the universe (after hydrogen). Most of it was formed during the Big Bang. For commercial use, helium is extracted by fractional distillation of natural gas. One cubic foot of helium weighs 0.011 pounds, while one cubic foot of air weighs approximately 0.08 pounds (depending on temperature and composition).

Helium (He)

Air (O)


room for error. Moreover, there is the not so small task of building in a reflective tape, so that the empty envelope that floats down to Earth after the capsule detaches can be located via radar at any time. Even one hole in the balloon, no matter how small, can spell trouble. For this reason, the entire balloon (and there are two just in case) is scanned with a special black light before being taken from the long table where the individual lengths of material are glued and loaded into the transport box. So that the delicate balloon doesn’t become damaged when it’s spread out on the asphalt, a protective layer of Herculite, a specially selected industrial synthetic, is placed between the ground and the balloon. There is a strict dress code for the 15 men who lay out and launch the balloon: cotton gloves; no zippers; no eyelets; no jewelry. And no force: Every contact, every movement of the balloon, poses a risk that could cause a potential weak spot. And any temptation to give it a hefty pull into the correct position must be resisted—the balloon envelope alone weighs 3,708 pounds, as much as a medium-sized vehicle. Once the sleeping giant is finally spread out on the ground, the detachment mechanisms are armed, which, when Baumgartner has landed safely, will sever the balloon from the capsule. In the course of this, the balloon envelope will tear along a predefined line, the helium will release into space, and the balloon envelope will begin its slow descent to Earth, where a ground crew will gather it up and bring it back to Roswell in the bed of a very large truck. But we’re nowhere near this point yet: For starters, Baumgartner’s airship must first lift off. An hour before takeoff, Mission Control OKs launch preparations. Fifty-five minutes before takeoff, the crew begins filling the balloon with helium from two tanker trucks, each with

a capacity of 180,000 cubic feet. In order to fill the balloon as close to launch possible, the decision was made to use a dual-inflation method, which means that the helium is pumped simultaneously from two hoses into the upper end of the transparent beast. Eventually, the balloon lifts its head and heaves itself up as a gigantic bubble. In the following minutes the bubble becomes bigger and firmer, and the arm that holds the balloon on the ground attached to a truck plays out more balloon length inch by inch. At the other end of this giant, the polyethythene sausage still lies on the ground, and inside the capsule Baumgartner sits ready. This capsule in turn is held aloft by a specially modified mobile crane that’s driven by one damn good truck driver. The moment the launch arm releases the balloon, it begins its initial vertical ascent, hoisting the unfilled portions from ground. The balloon continues to climb and should be headed in the direction of the crane; Baumgartner’s capsule begins feeling its first twinges of tension. When the balloon reaches somewhere around a 10- to 20-degree tilt—a rule of thumb for veteran balloon launcher Ed Coca—the crane supporting the capsule begins to move. It must now be maneuvered precisely under the balloon, which is something like balancing a broomstick on the tip of your finger, admittedly on a slightly different scale, while the balloon pulls on its load from above. Coca guides the crane, but stands on the runway a short distance away: “Standing to the side gives you a better view and feeling for how you best maneuver the capsule under the center of the uplift.” Calm at the start is a good thing. Even in a space as big as an airfield, the amount of square mileage is not unlimited, and the moment Coca gives the OK, the crew needs to release the towline. During the long, long pause before Felix Baumgartner begins to rise up into the clear morning skies above Roswell, none of those watching will dare breathe. “Even though we’ll have already overcome huge hurdles at the moment of liftoff, we’re not finished by a long shot,” says Baumgartner. “This is just the beginning.”

3.2 My



ow do you maneuver a balloon? Well, there’s no arguing with the wind, but if you’re a sufficiently savvy and experienced balloonist, you’ll know how high, for how long, and which way the wind is blowing. So you’ll understand that a gentle northerly at 650 feet can be a fresh southerly at 1,300 feet. You’ll be moving at 25 mph or more, but you won’t feel it, because you’re moving with the wind. Only when the wind turns do you feel it: first in the face, then in your clothes. You control the altitude of a helium balloon with a valve that allows the gas to escape—you sink—or through dumping ballast—you rise. The system works with incredible precision, although with a lag of around half a minute. Adjusting to this is a part of the art of ballooning: Never would you throw sandbags over the side, like you see in some dreadful adventure movies. For starters, a bag could land on the head of some poor rambler below, and second, it would be a very crude method. It’s normally enough to empty the large sandbags by just a scoopful to gain height. Ballast is the balloonist’s gold. Once you’ve thrown it all overboard you’re robbed of a crucial navigating aid. It’s not just that you can’t climb anymore—say there are mountains ahead—but more importantly you can’t use the higher atmospheric layers to steer. If you’re desperate, the only option is to throw equipment over the side, but that’s obviously the last resort. My Red Bull Stratos balloon trip is only one way—up!—but I still had to

Before you can jump from a height of 23 miles, you have to get up there. And if you’re planning to ascend to the edge of space in a huge balloon, you’ll need a legit license. Here’s how Red Bull Stratos adventurer Felix Baumgartner went about getting his. Words: Felix Baumgartner

Ballooning sure has its adventurous moments. I had to find that out the hard way.


“I had just two days to learn ballooning . On the third day President Obama was expected.”

That’s a packed schedule to build up enough practice runs, but soon I was getting a feel for the tactics and memorizing wind directions at different altitudes. I feel most at home in the air: It’s where I’m “in my element.” After two days of ballooning I felt ready for my exam. Joe Kittinger, our mission consultant, had assured me that in my case I wouldn’t have to sit for the written test, so I was surprised when my examiner, a tall white-haired gentleman from the Federal Aviation Administration, ordered me upstairs and sent Joe away. It’s not in my nature to do things by half, and when I have a task, I want to do it perfectly. So I hate being faced with a situation I’m not prepared for. I’m also brutally honest, so I told the examiner I was there on the understanding that I wouldn’t have to take a written exam, and I hadn’t studied for it. I also explained that I didn’t plan to fly around with balloons after Red Bull Stratos, and I definitely didn’t intend to transport passengers. To my surprise, he heard me out and produced an aeronautical chart outlining a route. I’m more than familiar with aeronautical charts, thanks to my helicopter flying, so I spotted the trick question the examiner had slipped in and showed myself sufficiently competent for the stern old gentleman to give me the thumbs up and do the practical test the next day. The balloon was tethered on a large, fenced football field. A couple of cars were parked at the fence, which I thought were too close, but the examiner and the

“Getting a balloon license is a bit more involved than passing a driving test.” teacher both reckoned it would be fine. We floated up without a problem, but after a few feet the uplift stopped and we shaved a wing mirror off one of the cars and put a hefty dent in the roof—not that either my teacher or examiner seemed particularly concerned! We just managed to scrape over the fence, and I felt a bit bad. But my two companions both told me not to worry, that it had been a “false lift.” It dawned on me right then that getting a balloon license was a bit more involved than passing a driving test. False lifts aren’t dishonorable—just “one of those things.” They’re caused by wind pushing on the lower part of the balloon and creating lift. You let the line go, thinking you have strong lift. But it stops at exactly the moment the balloon has reached the speed of the wind. In our case, that was right at the height of the car’s side mirror. I’d wanted to start from further back, but both the examiner and the teacher had assumed we were far enough away—so I was off the hook. A little while into our flight we began to approach a mountain. The examiner suggested tossing out a couple of spadefuls of sand, but I said I thought we’d be OK. The tester suggested we make a bet on whether or not we’d clear the mountain.


undergo balloon training. It started by filling 25 or 30 sandbags. After the fourth one I assured my teacher that I’d understood the system, thanks very much, but he showed no mercy. If only they’d let me build a sandcastle! But after the fun came the serious stuff: Focusing on precise communication with the meteorologist. That’s the be-all and end-all of good preparation. A good meteorologist prepares you for the wind conditions at different altitudes so you can plot your route, regardless of whether you’re going from A to B, from A to B and back again, or in a triangular flight path— the most common ballooning routes. The balloon itself stands on the ground ready to go. Helium is expensive, so it’s not normally released. You just refill missing gas. Gas balloons are costlier to run than hot-air balloons, but the gas-balloon pilot is higher up the balloonists’ pecking order. (And for Red Bull Stratos, a gas balloon is the only option, due to the lack of atmosphere.) One of my first learning experiences with ballooning is that it’s a sport for early risers. You start to prepare at 3 a.m., to be airborne before the sun rises and the first winds spring up. You always aim to have as little wind as possible when starting off. I did my training in Albuquerque, N.M., and by coincidence, I seemed to attract some action to the place. Three days after my arrival, a no-fly zone was announced for the entire airspace because President Obama was due to be there. That left me just two hectic days to learn ballooning.

I obtained my ballooning license in Albuquerque, N.M.—I even had to fill the sandbags myself!


Ballooning is a sport for early risers. Preparation starts at 3 in the morning; you become airborne by sunrise.

I said, “Sure.” It was close, but we made it without dumping any ballast. Slowly I felt I was getting a feel for it. On the other side of the mountain we caught a stiff wind—around 50 to 55 mph, causing us quite a lot of turbulence. We were approaching another mountain range, and on the other side there weren’t any suitable places to land. So we needed to get down fast. I pulled hard on the cord to release the gas and let the balloon descend. Unfortunately, the surface winds were still at 25 mph; I was getting worried. We prepared for the landing, put on our helmets, and pulled the sandbags into the basket so they wouldn’t be ripped open from a rough landing and allow us to rise again. The target area wasn’t large: It was a field, at least, but fenced with barbed wire, so there weren’t many options for rectifying an error in a slowreacting balloon. We definitely needed to get it right the first time. The landing was wild! When the ground rushes up at you at 25 mph, it feels as if you’re going really fast. The basket tipped over and we were dragged across the ground. We were all tugging hard on the valve to let the gas out of the balloon and put a stop to our wild ride. We tucked our heads in and tried to keep our arms and legs inside the basket. “Pull, pull, pull,” shouted the examiner above the sound of the basket as it scraped across the ground. We couldn’t move at all, but at last the rope was completely wound in, the vent was open wide, the helium released, and the whole load came to a standstill. Silence. “Are you guys OK?” We clambered out to see the 260-foot scar the basket had plowed into the field. Ballooning has its wicked moments! Still: Exam passed.



Felix Baumgartner’s Red Bull Stratos spacesuit is packed full of practical little details: Each glove has a small rear-view mirror to compensate for the helmet restricting his vision.

Tailor through time and space For over 50 years, David Clark Inc. has been the haberdashery for very special occasions. The U.S. company has made spacesuits for generations of astronauts and pilots, and is now supplying Red Bull Stratos with the last layers protecting Felix Baumgartner in his leap from the stratosphere. We go behind the scenes. Words: Werner Jessner & Robert Sperl



IN THIS CHAPTER we discuss Baumgartner’s spacesuit (4.1) and explore the colorful history of spacesuits (4.2).

AT THE EPICENTER OF DAVID CLARK INC. The travelers’ destinations lie beyond our world, but the required garb—in this instance, Felix Baumgartner’s spacesuit —is still checked over in the most traditional manner. The only piece of digital equipment in the test area is a mobile phone.


factory. This impression lingers behind the narrow entrance door. The only security you pass to gain access is a doorman who seems to know all 300 employees by their first names. Visitors are shown around by an assistant, who leads the way first up an austere stairwell. There is the kind of silence of a school during the holidays. You are very conscious of your own footsteps. The route winds through offices with booths separated by half-height wooden partitions for the technical staff and aquariums for the more senior staff, past simple metal cabinets and desks from which friendly personnel greet you as you pass by. The longer you stay, the more

David Clark pioneered anti-G and hearing protection. And every astronaut who flew in the space shuttle wore a David Clark suit.

palpable the sensation that this company is involved in something special. Door after door reveals similar scenes, until we arrive in the inner sanctum, a windowless room of modest proportions with wooden paneling and a linoleum floor. Anyone expecting a Eureka moment walking into a neon-lit futureroom is in for a surprise. The heart of David Clark Inc.—master tailor of suits for space shuttle astronauts, a company that has clothed every elite pilot to have conducted missions as a spy or a test pilot in ultra-fast secret jets—is a room in which the only piece of digital equipment is the cell phone in our guide’s pocket. There are pieces of equipment the size of cupboards, all of them analog and covered in olive-green tin paneling. Each one has shiny chrome controls and gauges. Measuring beakers and other random equipment is scattered about. There is a pulley dangling from the ceiling to simulate a parachute jump, and even though there is a set of kitchen scales (inventory number DC1452) standing on a filing cabinet, you sense



orcester, Massachusetts, lies 50 miles west of Boston and must be the most mispronounced city in America. (It’s pronounced “wuss-ter,” because of its relationship to Worcester in England, home of the sauce.) What’s also confusing is that, although Worcester only has a population of around 200,000, from whichever direction you enter this city, you become entangled in a suburban jungle of car parks, supermarkets, apartment buildings, and factories. The latter are hidden behind anonymous brick facades, and David Clark Company Inc. (DCCI), on Franklin Street, is no exception. The company’s introduction to the spacesuit business came in 1941, when founder David M. Clark, a knitting manufacturer, devised the first anti-G suits (worn by pilots in World War II). This developed into hearingprotection and pressure suits, as well as helmets for pilots and astronauts of the United States Air Force and NASA. The company offers a range of hightech products, but from the outside, DCCI looks more like a wooden toy

that this is a place where genius, aptitude, and experience coexist with a pioneering spirit. It’s like a traditional watchmaker’s workshop in here, but these people are not in the business of minutes and seconds. They’re about going into space. Hanging on the walls is a small gallery of certificates documenting the DCCI team’s areas of expertise. Alongside them are two dozen photographs, of pilots standing at the gangway of their jets, of teams of astronauts in front of their spacecraft. Many of the photos have been signed by their subjects, thanking staff for their faultless work. Dominating the room is a platform with a pilot’s seat on it. It resembles “Old Sparky,” aka the electric chair. This is where astronauts of the future are measured up and subjected to final tests and leakage checks in their newly delivered suits. Only after these tests are complete do the engineers tick the final boxes and allow the suits to leave the premises. (Some come back after the mission is complete: trophies wrapped in nylon and kept in an archive room, complete with name tags, just like in

VALET Baumgartner (above) is dressed in his suit by Mike Todd (right). Even one small crease could cause problems. Todd will be the last person to see Baumgartner before he gets in the capsule and the first person to greet him when he lands. This professional closeness has made them great friends.

a fancy costume shop. Diving suits, which DCCI developed as a kind of exercise, are kept here too.) Felix Baumgartner sat in this test room for the first time in January 2008, for three hours of measuring up. The initial, critical introduction phase was already behind him. Art Thompson, the technical head of the Red Bull Stratos project and a well-known figure in the aerospace industry, reached out to David Clark to get the ball rolling. The situation at the negotiating table was decidedly frosty when Baumgartner first sat face to face with DCCI management. Expectations were high on both sides. The aviation and space industries have been built on precisely worded projects and contracts, a realm that, to the uninitiated, appears to lack the slightest hint of emotion. This is a business that relies on complete infallibility, with no place for feelings. For Baumgartner, this was all new. “Red Bull is simply a warmer world,” he says, “full of jokes and smiling faces, everything’s laid-back, no one wears a tie.”

A few used suits are wrapped in nylon and kept in a storeroom, just like in a fancy costume shop. On the other side of the table sat John W. Bassick, then executive vicepresident at David Clark Inc. He explained his firm’s reservations about civilian projects. The last time they were involved with one was in the mid-1960s, when Nick Piantanida, a truck driver from New Jersey, wanted to beat test pilot Joe Kittinger’s highaltitude leap record, set in 1960, which is also the record that Baumgartner will try to break. During Piantanida’s record attempt, there was an incident when he was at an altitude of 12 miles. Oxygen deprivation threw him into a coma; four months later he was dead. “I got to know him right here at David Clark,” says Bassick. But Baumgartner and Thompson


This helmet, made of composite materials, was also developed by David Clark. Inside the helmet Baumgartner has a microphone and earphones for communication. The visor, which can be heated so that it doesn’t fog or ice up, has an adjustable sunshade. Baumgartner will also get oxygen through the helmet; during the jump the oxygen comes from two portable cylinders contained in the parachute rig. You can distinguish Baumgartner’s suit from those made for pilots and astronauts by the cut. Mobility is not that important to them. Baumgartner, on the other hand, will be in free fall: Imagine a ski-jumper in flight, but positioned head first. The strap in front of the chest is a helmet tiedown. It is there to keep the helmet on the head when the pressure suit inflates (because the pressure tends to lift the helmet right off the shoulders). The strap affects Baumgartner’s position, because it’s short while he is sitting and he has to extend it to stand up when he exits the capsule.



Imagine the second layer of the suit—the netting—is a crocheted net made of special thread. This stops the inflated membrane from stretching too much.

THE SECOND LAYER 21st century chainmail

The inner layer of the suit is made of a rubbery membrane with ultrasonically welded seams. It lets nothing in or out. (It can cope with holes the size of small coins in an emergency.) Once Baumgartner opens the door of the capsule, the suit will be filled with air so that the pressure is equivalent to an altitude of 35,000 feet. This artificial atmosphere prevents decompression sickness (where gas bubbles form in the blood). During the free-fall phase, a control valve—the “brains”of the suit—will regulate the pressure and maintain it consistently despite changes in his altitude. Once Baumgartner puts on the suit, it’s time for the pre-breathing: two hours of breathing pure oxygen to free the blood of nitrogen. Bubbles of that gas could form at altitude. However, anyone breathing pure oxygen has to make up for its dehydrating properties. So, in Baumgartner’s case, there is a food inlet on the helmet that delivers liquids through a tube. However, it follows that a person eating and drinking more will make more waste products. Baumgartner decided against the rather ungracious wearing of a nappy and instead chose a condom-style device linked to a container. The container will remain in the capsule, Baumgartner says, “because you don’t need it during free fall.”

THE FIRST LAYER In his own atmosphere

Once he has ascended into the stratosphere, 120,000 feet above Earth, Felix Baumgartner will leave his pressurized capsule and start his free fall back down to terra firma. He needs a pressurized suit to survive that. Temperatures of around -70º F will have to be endured. The low air pressure at altitudes above 12 miles means that without the suit, water in the blood would practically boil and ultimately kill the man in whose veins it flows.

Baumgartner’s spacesuit is the first David Clark Inc. has manufactured especially for a private individual. Three have been made for him.

The suit in detail

The gloves are detachable from the suit, which offers optimal comfort and dexterity for as long as possible before flight. A mirror has been affixed to each glove to aid Baumgartner’s limited peripheral vision in the helmet. He will be wearing a pair of boots that are substantially larger than his foot size so that pressurized booties (which are part of the suit’s interior “bladder”) can go inside them. The white suit fabric that covers the exterior of his boots is fire retardant.


Like the helmet, the gloves are also made airtight. They are attached to the suit by a rotatable wristband.


... you’ve got to go. So there’s a urine collection container under Baumgartner’s seat. A hose connects it to a condomlike device inside the suit. Before exiting the capsule, he will disconnect the hose and close the zip on his suit.


Used to ventilate the suit with warm or cool air during the ascent. Warm air can help to keep Baumgartner from being “cold soaked,” while cool air can avert perspiration, which fogs the visor.


A peek below the surface. Here you can see how painstakingly the crocheted artificialfiber netting has been put in place. The wires lead to Baumgartner’s boot heaters.

Automatically maintains the pressure in the suit at a steady level despite the changes in altitude that Baumgartner experiences.


The third and outermost layer of the suit is a single-layer textile with a fire-retardant and insulating effect. Baumgartner will also be wearing a thermal undergarment for protection during the ascent, which will last about two and a half hours, and the descent—about five and a half minutes of free fall, after which his parachute is to be deployed from about 5,000 feet above the ground. Only three suits have been produced for Baumgartner: a prototype that was continually adapted during the test phase, a follow-up model for more tests, and finally the third suit, which, for safety reasons, will be used only for a few test jumps and the actual record attempt itself.

THE THIRD LAYER To protect against wind and fire


4.2 The history

of spacesuits

The first spacesuits, with a design based on diving suits, were made in the 1930s. World War II hastened the development of spacesuits and anti-G suits, as did the subsequent Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. There’s been one constant throughout: The David Clark Company, which has lead the charge from the very beginning.

1965 This suit was worn in the experimental rocket-powered X-15 plane, which could reach speeds of Mach 6.72 (4,520 mph). It was the first suit with a restraint layer made completely of Link Net, a material developed by David Clark that has proved its worth from the first space walk in 1965 until today. Felix Baumgartner’s pressurized suit has elements made of Link Net.

FROM 1973 The Russian Sokol spacesuit was used for journeys to the International Space Station. It was tailormade for its wearer and, unlike the multi-use NASA space shuttle suits made by David Clark, was a one-wear type of spacesuit.

CIRCA 1960 This Soviet-made capstan suit for a dog was used in early space-travel development programs. In capstan suits, the pressure is produced directly by a series of inflatable tubes, a method developed by Dr. Jim Henry of the University of Southern California in about 1940. Later, the David Clark Company created suits for the X-1 pilots based on the same design. The technology reached the Soviet Union in 1960, when Francis Gary Powers was shot down over Soviet territory in his U-2 spy plane. 1965 Ed White wore this Gemini G4C suit on the first American space walk in 1965. You can see the additional TMG (thermal micrometeoroid garment) outer protective layer and a gold-tinted visor against the sun. Frank Borman and Jim Lovell wore more developed versions on their recordbreaking 14-day space flight in the Gemini VII later that year. CIRCA 1950 The 1950s saw a number of firms experimenting with the manufacture of a range of spacesuits: BF Goodrich, General Electric, US Rubber, Arrowhead, ILC, and, last but not least, David Clark. This prototype suit of unknown origin is typical of the era.

FROM 1977 With their hard torsos, Hamilton Standard Space Shuttle Extravehicular Mobility Units were known as “suits of armor.” Suits similar to this one carried the kit bag with the survival and monitoring systems on journeys into space, and helped secure tools for work outside the space shuttle.


CIRCA 1959 This suit is from back when the U.S. Air Force was first given sole responsibility for all pressurized suits (still the case today, incidentally). The suit is based on a design by BF Goodrich, but rather than a diagonal front zip, it has a U-shaped zip in the style of David Clark’s X-15 suits. This prototype is similar to the suit David Clark made for the U.S. Navy.

FROM 1975 This replaced the first suit for Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird pilots and was used by NASA for high-speed test flights. An anti-G suit was also built into the inside. The microphones and micro-switch pressure sensors were meant to eliminate the noise of breathing during communication.

CIRCA 1955 This early Apollo spacesuit was made by the International Latex Corporation. The polycarbonate helmet comes complete with a communications unit and was developed by Air-Lock Inc., founded by David Clark and a firm that now forms part of the David Clark Company.

1961 As worn by Alan Shepard, this Mercury spacesuit is based on the Mark IV model that BF Goodrich devised for the U.S. Navy. In the course of its development, highly qualified staff moved from the U.S. Navy over to NASA.

FROM 1960 For more than half a century, scientists have been looking at “soft suits” that could be worn on other planets. The ideal here would be to wear the suit outside the controlled interior of a spacecraft, and easily remove it inside an airlock, which would minimize contamination. Many such concepts are currently being evaluated by NASA.

FROM 1961 With a polycarbonate inflatable helmet, the Apollo suit’s design (worn here by Skylab astronaut Owen Garriott) is still used outside the International Space Station.


LIMITED EDITION At David Clark, spacesuits are made by hand. It can take a month to make one complete suit—a work rate sufficient to keep up with demand.

argued their case well. They won over the folks at DCCI with the idea of being able to develop, alongside the Red Bull Stratos team, a prototype for the next generation of full-pressure suits, which might save the lives of future astronauts. That evening the two parties dined at The Country Club in nearby Brookline. Dress pants are an absolute must at America’s oldest country club, and Baumgartner, as usual, was wearing ripped jeans. Thompson came to the rescue with another pair but, as he’s considerably larger than Baumgartner, so too were the borrowed pair of pants. “I sat there,” says Baumgartner, “looking like a Bulgarian car salesman.” Baumgartner underwent initial testing in a suit similar to the kind made for reconnaissance aircraft pilots, explains Mike Todd, a member of Baumgartner’s mission team. Todd is the mission’s life-support engineer; he is responsible for every aspect of the suit and how it functions in coordination with the rest of the mission’s equipment. He also helps Baumgartner into the suit before the jump to conserve his energy, making sure each component is positioned and sealed perfectly. From parachuting to BASE-jumping to crossing the English Channel in a suit with a carbon wing, Baumgartner has had a great deal of experience with different types of suits. (“I’ve also been

“Felix should spend as much time as possible in this suit. It has to become like a second skin to him.” to weddings,” he says.) But his Red Bull Stratos suit brings with it greater difficulty: little movement, a narrow field of vision. Then there’s that claustrophobic feeling of being stuck in narrow confines, and finding it hard to breathe. “Your breathing always meets resistance,” says Baumgartner. “It’s like holding a permeable cloth up to your mouth and then running fast. OK, so you get enough air, but you have the feeling that it’s too little.” Joe Kittinger, whose record-setting jump Baumgartner is trying to top and who has become a vital member of the Red Bull Stratos team, is under no illusions about a man’s relationship with his suit. “Felix should spend as much time as possible in this suit,” he says. “It has to become like a second skin to him.” Back on the tour, the DCCI assistant continues to the area where 12 specialists finish off the suits. Even in these lowceilinged tailoring rooms, DCCI prioritizes tradition. Time has been deliberately put on hold here. It is in this room that seamstresses

craft the netting—a layer to be sandwiched between the airtight underlay and the outer protective layer of a suit—on machines that have performed their duty, clacking away, for the past 40, 50 years. Netting prevents the innermost layer of the spacesuit from inflating incorrectly. It’s like complicated macramé, resembling the chainmail of a Samurai. David M. Clark, the company’s founder, helped develop the mechanical marvels that weave the netting, row for row, into complex webs. The suit materials are state of the art, breathable, and fireproof but are still cut using shopworn templates on large, flat wooden tables. The people who work here are virtuosos with scissors, measuring tapes, and tailor’s chalk. The many individual pieces are sewn together on old Singer sewing machines. Stitch by stitch, every seam is checked several times over and documented. It takes hundreds of hours before a suit such as Baumgartner’s is finished, at a rate of one per month. In the event of a power failure, this department wouldn’t stop producing. The workers would just light candles and their Singers would keep on singing.


5 Body & Mind


What happens to the body when it goes supersonic? What should someone jumping from the edge of the stratosphere eat before his mission begins? And what are the scientific lessons to be learned when Felix Baumgartner and Red Bull Stratos take off? We ask medical director Jonathan Clark. PLUS: Sci-fi writer Leo Lukas takes us on a trip to Ăœberworld.



IN THIS CHAPTER we speak with Jonathan Clark, medical director of Red Bull Stratos, about the dangers to Baumgartner’s body (5.1) and take a sci-fi journey to Überworld (5.2).

I Flat spin At great height, with almost no air to work with, Baumgartner’s body might start spinning uncontrollably.

5.1 “We’re aware that Felix is in danger.” Jonathan Clark is the medical director of the Red Bull Stratos mission. An interview on the expected and unexpected risks in the stratosphere, how to tackle them, and how all of mankind profits from this project. Interview: Werner Jessner


  : Which stages of Red Bull Stratos are the most dangerous, from a medical point of view?  : The start is quite precarious. Below 1,000 feet, the parachute doesn’t have the chance to open and slow the free fall. If the balloon envelope were to tear at the start, the odds would be stacked heavily against Felix. He needs 13 seconds to get out of the capsule—at such a low altitude that’s too long. For this reason he’s buckled into a modified race truck seat with safety harnesses to make things as safe as possible. During the launch we have all rescue teams on standby at the start. I would even go so far as to say


The lower the rotational axis lies, the more dangerous for the brain. If there is too much blood in the feet, Baumgartner will pass out.

that the phase from zero to 1,000 feet is the most dangerous. From which height could Felix exit without experiencing problems? From 4,000 feet we’re on the safe side. From that point on he would have enough time to get out of the capsule, even if the balloon envelope ripped. But then other problems await him further up ... Above the Armstrong Line at 63,000 feet, the pressure is so low that water in the blood “boils” away, as it were. That’s exactly what happened to Joe Kittinger’s hand when he jumped [due to a fault in the pressure suit]. It happened to a person during a spacesuit test, and to another in a vacuum chamber. It also sealed the fate of the crew on the Soviet spaceship Soyuz 11 in 1971: The cosmonauts weren’t wearing pressure suits, the capsule lost pressure, and in five minutes they were dead. What is it exactly that makes it lethal? Seventy percent of the human body


A G-force sensor will automatically deploy a drogue chute if Baumgartner is exposed to over 3.5 G for more than 6 seconds.

is made up of water. There are two different methods to bring water to the boil: Either you apply heat or reduce pressure. Evaporating water upwards of Armstrong’s Line is not thermally hot; it’s the gas that causes the damage— inflammation, bubbles in the blood. The worst damage occurs in the lungs, directly to the alveoli, where the gas exchange with the blood occurs. We call this ebullism. Is there still a chance to survive? We’re aware that Felix is in danger and it’s our obligation to do everything to ensure he has good survival chances in the case of an ebullism. We have two respirators here with which we can safely execute the gas exchange with the blood even in a destroyed lung. How does that work? Humans need a certain amount of oxygen. Basically it doesn’t matter whether it’s given in big amplitudes or tiny amplitudes. With these inhalators here you “breathe” 12 times per second. This avoids a massive pulmonary pressure wave in the lung.

II Shockwave What happens when Baumgartner breaks the sound barrier?


When Baumgartner goes supersonic, he will create a sonic boom (he won’t be able to hear it himself, though).



The big unknown: What happens if a shockwave collides with itself? This might damage Baumgartner’s pressure suit and expose him to the hostile atmosphere at high altitude.

Instead it almost oscillates and, as if by magic, is supplied with oxygen. How does it feel? Weird. The brain and body fight not breathing, but in fact it’s not necessary. Crazy. This inhalator is actually one of the greatest scientific advances to be associated with Red Bull Stratos. Earlier, this machine was used in premature baby wards because the lungs of extreme preterm babies stick together. It can also be used in severe burn cases where the patients’ lungs have collapsed. Now we’ve extended the field of application to include vacuum injuries. How long would it take to get Felix back to his old self? A couple of weeks, as long as the lung isn’t filled with blood. As soon as the body receives oxygen it can begin to mend. During the initial tests Felix complained about the extreme cold ... These are problems that must be fixed

with better heating of the hands and feet. What dangers lurk during the jump? From a medical standpoint, two: One is a flat spin—a fast, uncontrollable rotation around one’s own axis; the second is the shockwave that happens when breaking the sound barrier. We call it shock-shock interaction. Let’s start with the flat spin. Luckily we know quite a lot thanks to dummies that the Air Force tossed out of balloons in the 1950s and 1960s: From an altitude of 30,000 feet, the rotational speed is between 20 and 120 revolutions per minute. Jettisoning from higher altitudes increased the speed of rotation. Later, the Air Force put animals and people into centrifuges to see how the body reacts. Aside from the duration and speed of the rotation, the axis around which the body spins is very decisive. If you spin around the waist, half of the blood rushes to the head and the other half to the feet. Blood in the feet means

Body monitoring

Baumgartner’s physiological data will be recorded during the mission. The screenshot below is actually taken from his first jump earlier this year. Jonathan Clark: “Race car drivers have all the instrumentation on their cars so they know what their machines are doing. An athlete’s body is a fine piece of machinery, too. It has become very important for serious athletes—and Red Bull is pushing the envelope with this kind of technology. This system was very rapidly tested and now we have jumped into the stratosphere. Isn’t that cool? We work with the University of Texas Medical Branch and Baylor College of Medicine to have better ways to analyze it.” Several space-tested sensors watch the mission pilot’s body position (all three axes), measure body temperature, heart and breath rate, and display two ECGs and the respiratory rate. After the mission is successfully completed, all data will be made available to science.

that the heart is deprived and you become unconscious. If the spin can be arrested soon enough, then you can survive it. Much more unpleasant is too much blood in the head, which ruptures and squashes namely the brain and eyes. And this is not at all good. For this reason we want Felix’s rotational axis to be as high as possible. At what point does it become critical? Luke Aikins [skydiving consultant] found in self-tests that he becomes unconscious when he’s exposed to more than 3.5 G for more than 6 seconds. So he developed a sensor that ignites a drogue chute once this reading is exceeded. This miniparachute is shaped like a donut and slows the spin—but also the speed of the free fall, and that’s not the intention of this project. What happens when he breaks the sound barrier? That is one of the areas we don’t completely understand yet: What happens when a shockwave collides with itself? So that’s why we have established the same medical protocol as for ebullism. Is there not the danger that Felix might throw up in his helmet during the flat spin? A very real danger. Should the vomit get into his lungs, that could cause massive damage. The worst-case scenario, 49

however, is that the vomit gets in his eyes and he has to free fall blind until he reaches a respirable atmosphere. So Felix must try to hold the vomit in his mouth for as long as possible and then release it to one side. In this way at least one eye remains unaffected. Being sick in the spacesuit is a more serious hazard than you imagine. NASA had such a case during a space walk. The stuff would get into the material that absorbs the carbon dioxide and cause a very bad reaction. Is radiation a threat? No, for several reasons: We’re only up there for a short time, we’re not high enough up, and Roswell [the area in New Mexico where Baumgartner plans to land] is situated near the equator, far away from the major magnetic fields at the poles. A massive solar storm could delay the project —not for medical reasons but because it could seriously interfere with the GPS. During test jumps, Felix apparently used hair gel, although it’s not permitted because it contains alcohol. Sure. Oxygen and alcohol combined could cause a nice little fire. On the other hand, a tiny bit of alcohol in a little hair gel evaporates in no time. The helmet is a very snug fit, so not a lot of oxygen reaches there ... the media got hold of the hair gel issue at some point and it took off. If he ate beans, would it explode in the stratosphere or is that a load of hot air as well? When the outside pressure is low, gases expand inside the body: in the ear, the gut, the sinuses. This is serious. In the intestinal tract especially the problem usually solves itself: You, if you’ll pardon the language, belch or fart it out. After every pressure chamber test it smells like a sewage treatment plant! If you didn’t do this you’d run the risk of an intestinal barotrauma—a bowel explosion. So the solution is not to eat anything that is quickly digested prior to jumping. 50

Astronauts like to eat steak and eggs the day before a flight. Why does Felix start to breathe pure oxygen two hours before the mission begins? His body is saturated with nitrogen that, with decreasing pressure, behaves like carbonated water in a bottle: When you open the bottle it bubbles out. The nitrogen in the blood behaves similarly and bubbles form: We call this decompression sickness. By breathing in pure oxygen, we’re washing the nitrogen out of the blood. We manage a good 80 percent with our procedure, and with this we’re on the safe side. What can science learn from Red Bull Stratos? We need spacesuits with which you can survive up in the stratosphere. Outerspace tourism is just beginning, so it needs reliable statements and certainties, not solely but also for insurance purposes. There is always someone who sues the other one in such cases. Red Bull Stratos will be the reference for this. But even more importantly, how can you climb out of a spaceship and stay alive? Astronauts and cosmonauts alike would still be alive today if they’d had access to the information we have now. How do you treat victims of falling pressure, like in a space station or a spaceship? Red Bull Stratos has developed the medical protocol for this. We generate massive amounts of data the likes of which have never been collated before. Felix is wired up during the entire mission. We make this data available for research. The scientific value of Red Bull Stratos is huge. Would you swap places with Felix? If I had a tailor-made suit that fit I wouldn’t hesitate for one second. Jonathan Clark is a six-time space shuttle surgeon and Red Bull Stratos’ medical director.


Being sick in the spacesuit is a more serious hazard than you can imagine.


“There is a place where you can go ... Where Marilyn still dances with DiMaggio ... And the name of the place is ...” Kinky Friedman, “Marilyn and Joe”

Überworld Words: Leo Lukas *



elix jumped. It didn’t take the slightest effort. He simply did it. Stood up as soon as the door swung to the side. Climbed calmly out of the capsule onto the narrow sill with movements he’d practiced hundreds of times before. Radioed his A-OK to mission control. Leaned forward. And leapt into the depths. Now. Now he fell. Plunged towards earth, in free fall, from higher than anyone before. He pushed that thought away. Keep a cool head; free of doubt, nervousness, euphoria or any other ballast. Total concentration, just as he’d practiced ... He bumped into an obstacle. Impossible. It couldn’t be. Surely he was wrong. Up here, near the edge of space, was nothing, could be nothing, to curb his fall, barely 10 seconds after jumping. The acceleration phase had only just begun. It was supposed to take around a minute. Until Felix, on the other side of the sound barrier, had reached top speed. Instead, he sensed that he was being slowed down—by something soft, elastic, invisible—and he came to a stop. As if the air had turned to a thick jelly around him, he hung hovering, not able to move. Then he heard voices. “Well, what do you say to that? Did I get him or not?” “You’re crazy, Julie. Let the man go at once. If someone finds out about this!” “I got him and I’ve won the bet. You owe me three ounces of ambrosia.” “Good grief, I thought you were joking.” “The fun’s just starting. What do you reckon, shall we remove the man’s unbecoming outfit?”

“I think that might be a pressure suit.” “Well, obviously. But I’m dying to see whether such stone-age people really blow up to double their size when their body fluids evaporate.” “Julie! We shouldn’t even be here.” Right. Nobody should be up here apart from me, thought Felix. He shivered. Was he hallucinating? Was he suffering from break-off phenomenon? By now, everything had gone perfectly to plan. He hadn’t noticed the slightest warning signal, not even for hypoxia. His oxygen supply was working as it should. Or was it? Don’t panic. He tried calling the control center to ask if everything was OK, and discovered that the connection was malfunctioning. Don’t panic! He told himself firmly: There’s a perfectly logical explanation. Perhaps reflections from sound waves or radio signals in the upper layers of the atmosphere, a type of acoustic Fata Morgana; and my brain, deprived of the usual sensations and overwrought by the exceptional situation, picked up these scattered words. Me. Or so. Somehow. Damn, he was really bewildered. What was going on? Why did he have the feeling that ghostly fingers were tugging at the fasteners of his suit? “Stop it, Julie. That’s not funny anymore. And I bet it’s forbidden.” “I’m not doing anything. I just want to play a little. Don’t crap yourself, Romy-boy.” Felix screamed as the sheath of his suit opened and compressed air leaked out. His scream sounded thin, wafting, and then died away, drowned out by the intensifying noise in his ears. He couldn’t breathe. The cold paralyzed him. He saw nothing but blackness, pulsating ever more furiously.


e awoke to music. Someone sang: “Muss i denn, muss i denn zum Städtele ...” Felix opened his eyes. Blinded, he immediately closed them again. He blinked until he’d become accustomed to the intense light. “Hi,” said Elvis. “Welcome to Überworld. It wasn’t actually part of the plan to bring you onboard. But we couldn’t very well leave you to your fate, after what those brats did to you.” He leaned his guitar, a simple Martin D-28, carefully against the fluorescent wall and moved closer to the hospital bed. The man wore a washed-out T-shirt and baggy track pants, he seemed somewhat unkempt, his breath was sour, and he was unshaven, yet unmistakably ...

Damn, he was really bewildered. What was going on? “Stop it, Julie. That’s not funny anymore. And I bet it’s forbidden.” “Elvis?” “Yep. That’s the good news. We’re alive, you and I. But then things get more complicated.” He glanced to one side to read the glowing, violet holographic screen. “You’re recovering remarkably quickly. You must have trained well for your mad escapade, hmm?” “For years,” rasped Felix. “But obviously not enough. Otherwise I wouldn’t be dreaming about you.” Elvis sighed, bent over Felix, and pinched his cheek. “Does that hurt?” “Ouch! Still, that’s no proof. You can imagine pain just like all other sensations.” “I don’t care if you trust your senses or not. Anyway, while you get used to the idea of accepting this reality, let me show you around.” Felix thought for a moment. Something had gone terribly wrong. He was having a vision, probably the last in his life. Why not simply enjoy it for a bit? Especially while he was having difficulty pushing away this absurd illusion, not to mention how to determine in what condition he was. “OK. Where are we again?” “In Überworld,” said Elvis cheerfully, helping Felix to his feet. “Where the good powers come together. Perfectly hidden, because according to the current doctrine of earth-dwellers, nothing can exist for

long up here.” Raising his hand in defense, he said: “Please don’t ask me about the technology. I only know it works. Something to do with antigravitation and all the consequences that go with it.” “How did you get to ... ? I mean, by which means? It can’t have been with a balloon. And, above all, when?” “Time is relative here. I received an offer I couldn’t refuse.” Elvis winked. “You could say, I left that building way before.” The habitat was very spacious and tastefully decorated in an impressive, well-nigh vibrating balance between Bauhaus and Art Deco: elegant lines interspersed with distinctive brass and red-gold ornaments. Classy was the word that sprung to Felix’s mind. He felt out of place, like a stowaway, or more like a castaway that had been fished out of the ocean, disoriented from exhaustion. An unearthly beautiful couple danced in a dimly lit bar. “Monroe,” murmured Felix. “And her partner is ... ?” “Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, the best baseball player of all time, to now and for eternity. 361 home runs in 13 seasons. He’s honestly deserved this dance. Down below he and Marilyn didn’t get along quite so well. They divorced after just seven

months. But in the meantime they’ve decided to enjoy the moment of their greatest happiness. Forever and ever.” “They dance? That’s all?” “For as long as this universe exists. You’re a German native speaker, right? Goethe’s Faust should mean something to you. I quote: ‘Ah, linger on, thou art so fair ...’ ” “That happens here? You freeze people at a pinnacle of their life?” “Like I said, it’s all much more complicated,” said Elvis, reassuringly. “No one gets old if they don’t want to; not even an adolescent rascal like Romeo and that obnoxious Julie.” Click. The penny finally dropped. His record attempt had, for whatever reason, failed. Fatally. Felix had a near-death experience: white light at the end of the tunnel, etc. But instead, he had fantasized about paradise on the other side, a bizarre Olympus in the stratosphere inhabited by partly historic, partly


“Leonardo has seen it again and again. He comes from the future in which you are famous.” fictional characters. He laughed. “Then Jesus hangs out here, too.” “Sorry. The search for him proved fruitless. I could introduce you to Ché Guevara, if you’re into martyrs. Or Queen Nefertiti. She could tell you a couple of great anecdotes. But if you want to know about long-term plans, you’d better talk to Leonardo.” “DiCaprio? But he’s ...” “Da Vinci, you clown.”


he laboratory was as spacious as a jumbo-jet hangar, yet it was bursting at the seams, filled to the rafters

with masses of art work and equipment. Leonardo was very obviously a passionate collector as well as a compulsive hoarder. And albino. And gay. “Who have we here,” he trilled, effeminately wiping his hands on his apron. “Give me a hug, Herr Baumgartner! I simply adore daredevil flight pioneers.” A heavy cloud of mint and menthol perfume wafted over him. Felix gulped for air after enduring the excruciatingly affectionate greeting. “How do you know my name?” “Oh, we’ve been watching you for years. We don’t miss much of importance. Believe me, we keep a good eye on you all down there and we look after your well-being most attentively.” Felix frowned. It seemed pointless to enter into a discussion with such a weird, almost transparently thin-skinned, angellike, androgynous, mystical figure—but if there was one thing he couldn’t stand it was overexaggerated enthusiasm. “Well, the global situation doesn’t look particularly rosy at the moment.” “That depends on your perspective, my friend. Looking at things from up here, at a certain distance, mankind is progressing well.” Leonardo ran his fingers through his snowy-white mane of curls. “I could transfer you into considerably worse eras, if you should so desire.” “You have a time machine.” Yeah right, just what’s needed. And a perpetual motion machine. Wagging his index finger, Leonardo threatened Elvis playfully. “Naughty King! Haven’t you explained anything to him?” “You’re the one responsible for great revelations.” “Starvation, war, natural disasters,” Felix listed angrily. “AIDS, species extinction, global warming. Etcetera. You call that looking out for us?” “We do our best to limit the collateral damage. But don’t mistake us for Gods. We are in no way almighty. If that were the case, we wouldn’t be dependent on planetary resources.” “Hang on a minute.” Once Felix got hold of something he wouldn’t let go. “The rapidly increasing global energy consumption. The financial resources that periodically seem to vanish into thin air ... that all goes to Überworld?” The albino cleared his throat. “Indirectly. Obviously several selected members of the ruling elite contribute theirs. As a sort of investment, you understand. In the end, they want to be onboard when we head to the stars some day.” “So that’s it? You plunder the earth for

a pipe dream? For an ark so that a couple of pop stars and some super rich can rule the cosmos?” “Forty thousand,” Elvis chipped in, “that’s how many will be at the start. So that wherever and whenever we find a suitable colonial world, we’ll have the highest possible genetic diversity there.” He pointed to the logo on Felix’s singlet. “In fact, your sponsor, the energy-drink baron, has pretty good chances.” “I don’t get it. The remaining 6 billion pay through the nose for this madness! Who was behind such a scheme? A lunatic dictator?” Leonardo patted Felix on the shoulder. “Pull yourself together, boy. Be honest—if you, of all people, had the choice, wouldn’t you want to fly with us?”


ut he didn’t have the choice. Regardless of his contributions to guerrilla aeronautics, they told Felix he had to be sent back to his balloon. The expertise gained from this heroic mission would set a chain of events in motion, which was of utmost importance for this zone at the apex of time. Ultimately, the success of the entire project hung on how much his world-record fired the imagination of future research. “Suppose I wanted to sabotage you,” said Felix, as they buckled him into the time machine. “For example, by not pulling the rip cord of my parachute at the right time. Would that make a difference?” Elvis shook his head. “Leonardo has seen it again and again. He comes from the future in which you are famous. And completely clueless—the sonic boom will totally erase any memory you have of our meeting.” “And what if I behave like an idiot from now on?” “Even then. Whether you want to or not, you will land on earth safe and sound.” Felix jumped. It didn’t take the slightest effort.

* Leo Lukas is one of 11 writers for the sci-fi series Perry Rhodan, established in 1961. With over 1 billion books sold worldwide, it is the most successful science-fiction book series ever written.




How to jump Once Felix Baumgartner opens the door of his capsule, it gets serious. Years of planning by the Red Bull Stratos science team comes down to a few calculated, vital decisions.

IN THIS CHAPTER we skydive with Luke Aikins (6.1), calculate if Baumgartner can go supersonic (6.2) and listen to the man himself as he tests from 13.6 miles (6.3). 55

6.1 Luke in the Sky

How to come down to Earth again: Skydiving specialist Luke Aikins on making Baumgartner’s fall from the stratosphere as safe as possible. Words: Werner Jessner

Jumping from the stratosphere feels “like driving a car with flat tires.”



e jumped. Then he pulled the reserve chute, and once it opened he severed the line and trusted that the main parachute would open. The next time he jumped, he opened the drogue chute and the reserve chute together. Or he leapt and began to spin on his own axis, faster and faster, until he became dizzy and the horizon turned blurry before his eyes. He did everything wrong that you can possibly do wrong—and explored every eventuality that could threaten Felix Baumgartner in his Red Bull Stratos mission. Twenty days after the birth of his son Logan, Luke Aikins jumped from Mandalay Bay, one of the largest hotels in Las Vegas. Don’t you ever start thinking about fear and risk, Luke? The giant with the broad smile shakes his head. “The second a strange idea enters my thoughts before a jump I’ll stop immediately.” Aikins, 38, is a child of the skies. He grew up, literally, on Kapowsin Airfield in Kapowsin, Wash., where his grandfather founded a skydiving company, later to be taken over by his aunt and uncle. Aikins’ father is a pilot, and all his siblings fly. Other families go fishing or diving. The

Aikins clan takes to the air. At 12 years old, Aikins did his first tandem jump, but for legal reasons he had to wait until his 16th birthday to go solo for the first time. Aikins’ skydiving logbooks, recording around 15,000 parachute jumps, fill half a bookcase. Alongside the scientists who stand behind Red Bull Stratos are true sporting professionals contributing crucial pieces of the puzzle toward the success of the project. Guys who actually test the scientists’ and technicians’ calculations and prototypes. Aikins’ other “clients” are the elite soldiers of the U.S. Navy SEALS. He shows them the finer points of skydiving. Initially, Aikins was to have no real major role in the Red Bull Stratos project. He was booked as the airborne photographer, responsible for taking shots of Baumgartner during his pressuresuit familiarization in the wind tunnel and later during the first jumps from the plane. Aikins was not at all impressed with the original design of the parachute—but he shut up and readied himself to become a flying guardian angel should Baumgartner become tangled up in the rather confusing layout. The first test jumps in April 2009 were top secret. In California City, a couple of hours north of Los Angeles, two helicopters waited on standby to document Baumgartner’s first leaps in the pressure suit. What’s more, a 33-pound RED-HD camera had been strapped to Aikins’ helmet so that he could film Baumgartner during the fall. The mission was ill fated from the outset. “It was too windy outside, which wasn’t particularly surprising,” says Aikins. “It’s no coincidence that the area around Cal City is full of windmills.” Two helicopters and a Cineflex camera waited on the ground, while the crew nervously twiddled their thumbs. Baumgartner began to feel out of sorts. It seemed jinxed. The waiting dragged on; time was running out. So what did Aikins do? He called a friend in Taft, not 30 minutes away by helicopter, a small town whose location behind a ridge meant calmer conditions. He spun a story to the guys at the airfield—something about filming a Red Bull commercial. Give us 500 bucks, they said, and you can come. Baumgartner and the crew were happy: Well, lookie here—the film/photo guy solves problems just like that. The day was saved, but not quite: In the original parachute design, Baumgartner’s drogue chute also deployed and flew away when he pulled the main chute


“I think your equipment is unsafe. We have to rebuild the parachute system.”

cord. Aikins stood in the door ready to jump and indicated to the pilot of the second helicopter not to dive immediately in case the rotors got caught up in the parachute. Thinking about the safety of a helicopter isn’t typically among the core priorities of a skydiver. But Aikins did it anyway. Then he jumped out and filmed. For Aikins, it’s simply normal to take the initiative and fix things. Technical project director Art Thompson, life support engineer Mike Todd, and Baumgartner were so impressed by the performance of the supposed cameraman that they wanted him on the team. But he hesitated. “I think your equipment is unsafe. If I should come aboard we will have to rebuild the parachute system.” Originally, the drogue chute was to be fixed to the shoulders. Aikins thought

“the risk that the ropes could wrap around Felix’s neck was much too high.” While others calculated and fiddled, Aikins was up in the sky trying something out for himself. “I hooked the drogue up simple and dirty on my parachute and jumped out of a plane and just threw it in my hand. An early generation drogue chute—and it worked really good. So I sent them a video the next day.”


erived from this and refined with input from suit-handler Todd, Aikins put together a crude model for the parachute rigging. Aikins is, and he says it himself, “not a finaltouch guy—it’s more about ideas with me.” The finishing touches were given to Kelly Farrington, founder of parachute specialists Velocity Sports. During many

months of night and weekend shifts, he built the parachute rig that Baumgartner now uses in the Red Bull Stratos mission. With his immense free-fall experience, Aikins can perhaps best imagine what awaits Baumgartner in his fall through the stratosphere. “During the first half a minute he won’t notice any wind. For a skydiver it’s as if you are driving a car with four flat tires. I suspect he’ll tumble over a couple of times during the first 30 seconds. There is simply not enough air for him to work with. As soon as he feels enough air under his body, he’ll be able to assume his normal jumping position. I think way up there, Felix shouldn’t even try to prevent himself from somersaulting. Nothing you do—whether it’s flailing the arms or kicking the legs— will change the position. That’s hard for a skydiver to accept, but in an atmosphere that is so thin that a feather falls to Earth as fast as a lead weight, you can only ride it out and wait for thicker air.” At tests for Red Bull Stratos, a metal cylinder was released from 120,000 feet to see how it would react (the team dubbed this pod “Felix Bombgartner”). That it began to spin worried the technicians but not skydiver Aikins: “Where there’s air that allows you to wobble, then there’s air you can work with. We can do more with air than many aerodynamicists can imagine. In 1960 when Joe Kittinger jumped, he had only completed 33 parachute jumps. Felix has done over 3,000. In 1960 the record for formation free fall was at 8 people; today we’re at almost 500 who link hands in 57

6.2 Calculate Speed Hefty discussions on the Internet: Can a human jumping from the stratosphere go supersonic? For a bit of clarity we asked Dr. Martin Apolin of the Institute of Physics in Vienna what pure physics had to say. The results are astonishing. Words: Martin Apolin



hy can Felix Baumgartner break the sound barrier in free fall when a parachutist in the head-down position can only reach about 186 mph? We’ll start with the short answer. Air density is much lower at high altitude, meaning his rate of descent will be significantly higher. By contrast, the speed of sound is much lower there because of the low temperatures. These two factors combine to make breaking the sound barrier possible. That’s the short answer. If you want to understand it in greater detail and make calculations, you’ve got to dig into the physics. It’s a good case study for demonstrating the problems that arise when trying to make as accurate a prediction as possible and for showing that reality is too complex to allow for precise calculations. You must first take into account the governing factors for achieving maximum speed in free fall. Then you have to understand the two forces at work on a person in free fall. Although my analysis does not include compressibility effects due to shocks, it yields a good first-order approximation of Felix’s performance. The first factor is the force of gravity: FG = –m g, where g equals gravitational

acceleration and m is the mass of the person jumping and his equipment. (Baumgartner weighs in at 308 pounds when in his pressurized suit.) As FG pulls downward, we give it a minus sign. As the person jumping moves through the air, a decelerating force is also at play— air resistance, or drag: FD = ½ ρ v² cw A, where ρ is air density, cw the drag coefficient, A the flow area, and v the instantaneous velocity. Thus the total force being exerted on the person jumping is Ftotal = FD + FG = ½ ρ v² cw A – mg. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that gravitational acceleration remains constant. This would mean the weight was also constant. It is, of course, a different matter when it comes to air resistance. This grows proportionally with the speed squared. If the speed doubles, FD quadruples. Therefore, as speed increases, so does air resistance. So maximum speed is reached when air resistance and gravitational force balance each other out, i.e., when F total is equal to zero. So in this case we can set the equation for the total force to zero, solve it for v and come up with v = √ 2mg/ρ cw A. This corroborates the initial assertion. Given the same body position and mass, all values except for air density are constant and therefore v is proportional to √ 1/ρ . As air gets thinner the higher you go, maximum speed increases with altitude. If, as planned, Baumgartner makes his jump from 120,000 feet, he will achieve his maximum speed at just below 92,000 feet. If we give normal air density at sea level the notional


free fall. An insane amount has changed.” And still, “no one has leapt from as high as Felix plans with Red Bull Stratos. There is only one way to truly know what happens during free fall from such a height—someone has to do it.” Aikins’ job is to investigate all eventualities, predict problems, and work on solutions. He has jumped more than 100 times with the Red Bull Stratos rig, testing every possible malfunction. Suppose that Baumgartner jumps and the reserve chute opens accidentally: Baumgartner wouldn’t survive because he will be carrying too little oxygen to last him the slow descent. So he needs to be able to possibly cut the reserve chute—an absolute no-go in normal skydiving. And this system needs

Baumgartner (left) with skydiving pro Aikins during a test jump.

someone who is prepared to test whether it actually works as planned. Aikins doesn’t regard himself as a lab rat, and he’s no thrill seeker. On the contrary, he is arguably one of the most experienced and calmest skydivers in the world. And his respect for Baumgartner is huge. “Felix has so much to do for this mission that it’s simply helpful to have a skydiver alongside to take on some of the test work. In racing there are test drivers. The mission pilot can’t do everything himself.”

During a trial run in Taft, a jump with the old parachute system almost went wrong. “Felix pulled on the wrong ripcord and the chute didn’t open. More than a few jumpers have been killed in such a situation. They panic and don’t yank on a ripcord until it’s too late. But Felix took half a breath and very calmly made another decision—he pulled the correct deployment cord. Instead of waiting for someone to help him, he takes action. He makes decisions, he makes them fast and he makes them right. That’s what is

“A great athlete wants the opportunity to screw up. A lot of people shrink in that moment—but a champion wants that shot.”


Fig. 1

Raw data (white dots) and fitted curve for the air density between 20km (12.45 miles) and 40km (24.9 miles).

Air density in kg/m3

0,06 y=1,5906e-0,151x

0,04 0,02 0

20 Height in km






Fig. 2

Simulation of Baumgartner’s speed for the first 100 seconds from three different heights (see text).


Speed in mph

400 200 0

0 20 Flight time in seconds





If you look at Fig. 2, you will notice that the jumps are almost identical for the first 10 to 15 seconds. What is this due to? value of 1, at this altitude ρ is only 0.02 (or 2 percent). Thus for maximum speed, we use 1/ρ = √ 1/0,02 ≈ 7. So at this altitude, Baumgartner can achieve a speed seven times faster due to the low density than in a denser atmosphere. A simulation that shows what speed

will be achieved when is particularly fascinating. The simplest way to do this is numerically, i.e., to calculate the values step by step. This is actually fairly easy using spreadsheet software. You simply proceed from the known to the unknown values and then repeat. You start with the

special about Felix Baumgartner. A great athlete wants that opportunity to screw up—just to show that they can do it. A lot of people shrink in that moment—but a champion wants that shot. Felix belongs to that second group.” In Red Bull Stratos, Aikins sees above all the sporting value, the records, the quest to push the limit of his sport a little. “We want to show that it’s possible to jump through the stratosphere with a spacesuit and a parachute, to break the sound barrier and make a safe and controlled landing.” What would Luke Aikins rate as a Red Bull Stratos success? “Once the parachute is open and we see that Felix is moving, it’s all good.”

altitude the jump will be made from and a speed of zero. Calculate the total force exerted on the person jumping at that moment (only gravity to start with). Then, let’s assume that the overall force remains constant for a short time (e.g., one 10th of a second). This isn’t in fact completely correct, but it is only a marginal deviation. We can calculate acceleration from the total force, from there the new speed and new altitude and so on. Essentially very straightforward— but the devil is in the details.


f we want as accurate a simulation as possible, we must first factor in that the gravitational acceleration g, a consequence of gravitational force, will decrease with height. In Roswell, N.M., where Baumgartner test-jumped from about 71,600 feet on March 15 of this year, g is 8,957 yards/s², but at 120,000 feet it is only 8,855 yards/s², so about 1 percent lower. If we overlooked this difference, we would end up somewhat overestimating the final velocity. A significantly greater problem is that it’s impossible to calculate flow area A and drag coefficient cw at every point of the descent, because these are very much dependent on his body position. But we can try. To start with, we don’t need to know the individual values, just the product of A cw . We can estimate this by evaluating additional data from the test jump earlier this year. On that occasion, Baumgartner achieved a top speed of 365 mph. Now adjust A cw in the simulation until you achieve the same speed there. 59

“If Felix somehow goes into a tailspin and has to open his drogue parachute, he can wave bye-bye to breaking the sound barrier.”


he evaluation gives a value of 1.06 for A cw, which we can now use in our simulation. Let’s assume that his body position will be the same for his record-breaking jump. A real crunch point comes when trying to estimate air density. It lowers the higher you go, because there is less air weighing down the air, so to speak. Unfortunately, the temperature also decreases with altitude, which affects air density, too. There is plenty of data from the lower atmosphere—the troposphere—up to 6.2 miles. But when it comes to data from the stratosphere, between 9 miles and 31 miles, the evidence is thin, like the air. If we take the little raw data there is for high altitudes, we can estimate the air density between 12.4 and 24.8 miles up using the equation ρ = 1.5906e–0.151h (Fig. 1), whereby h is the height in kilometers. Of course, air density is constantly changing slightly and is dependent on the time of day, time of year, humidity, and location. In other words, you can’t predict air density at any given time. So it could be the case that there will be slightly different conditions for the record-breaking jump.

JUMP HEIGHT 110,000 feet 120,000 feet 130,000 feet


f we want to know how many Machs Baumgartner has hit at a specific height, we need to know the prevailing temperature there. As we have already stated above, it’s not easy to come by data for the stratosphere. However, we do have some temperature data given in two-kilometer increments, which we can interpolate. But it’s similar to the problem with air density in that slightly different conditions might very well prevail at the time of the jump. The table gives the temperatures at the respective altitudes and the speeds in Mach. It shows that Baumgartner would not reach the speed of sound if he jumped from 110,000 feet. The jump from 120,000 feet would give him a safety margin of 7 percent, and the jump from 130,000 feet a margin of up to 19 percent. No one, however, can anticipate what might happen just before the sound barrier is broken. If Baumgartner somehow goes into a tailspin and, in the worst-case scenario, has to open his drogue parachute, he can wave bye-bye to breaking the sound barrier. But whatever happens, the jump will still be extremely fascinating, as even the best simulation can never replace an actual attempt.

Time taken to reach the speed of sound

Altitude at which the speed of sound is reached

Time taken to reach maximum speed

Maximum speed (vmax)

Altitude at which maximum speed is reached

T in °F at this altitude

vsonic at this altitude

vmax in Mach

43 seconds

639 mph

85,300 feet

-59.3° F

669 mph


37 seconds

100,065 feet

46 seconds

719 mph

90,550 feet

-56.4° F

671 mph


34 seconds

112,200 feet

50 seconds

801 mph

95,140 feet

-53.9° F

674 mph


Table: Data on the three simulated jumps. All values have been rounded off save those for maximum speed and temperature.


denoted as 767.4 mph, known as Mach 1. Baumgartner would only have reached 0.96 Mach in the planned jump from 120,000 feet and thus not broken the sound barrier. Thankfully the established default value only applies at 68 degrees Fahrenheit, but the speed of sound is dependent on temperature, and this decreases very considerably at high altitude. You can calculate it using the formula vsonic = 44.74 mph · √ T + 273.15 whereby T represents temperature in degrees Celsius. (Values in the table below have been converted to Fahrenheit using the formula F = C × 1.8 + 32.)



ow we are ready for the simulations (Fig. 2). I have only produced simulations for the first hundred seconds of Baumgartner’s jump because the formula used to calculate air density may not be accurate enough after that. But the most important stuff will all have happened within 50 seconds at most anyway. I chose starting heights of 110,000 feet, 120,000 feet and 130,000 feet for the simulations. As things stand, the intention is to jump from the second height (represented by the blue dotted line). The results do not seem dogmatic. These models can, of course, never be more accurate than the raw data. And deviations of a few percent are always possible because the basic conditions could very well be different from those assumed. If you look at Fig. 2, you will notice that the jumps are almost identical for the first 10 to 15 seconds. What is this due to? The answer is the extremely low air density at the starting height. It’s so low at the start that in all three cases we are dealing with virtually unimpeded free fall. It’s backed up by something Joe Kittinger said after his 1960 jump. “At the end of the countdown I make a leap into the unknown. There’s no wind blowing; my suit doesn’t inflate. I don’t have the slightest sensation of the speed increasing.” The speeds are noticeably different after 30 seconds. There is already a difference of 62 mph at that point, and a difference of more than 161 mph in maximum speed between the jumps from the lowest and highest altitudes. This is shown particularly well in the table below. This simulation produces a maximum speed of 719 mph for the planned jump from 120,000 feet. But how much is that in Mach? This is where one last complication arises. The speed of sound is normally

The moment everyone has been waiting for: Baumgartner free falls towards Earth.


7 minutes, 52 years A leap from the stratosphere is like climbing Mount Everest: Felix Baumgartner talks about his plunge from 71,600 feet, the impossibility of training for supersonic flight, and what really worries him. Words: Felix Baumgartner


pace is jet black. You can see the curvature of the Earth. This is the moment when you realize just how lucky you are, standing on the platform of the capsule at an altitude of about 13 miles, ready to jump. You’re relieved to finally be up here. Relieved to be able to show at last what we’ve been working on for the last five years. Relieved to give something back to those people who have always believed in us. Then you release your grip on the handrails and fall, just as you’ve envisaged it a million times over. That moment of free-standing and leaping off, those first six seconds of free fall, where you don’t exactly know what will happen to you next: That was really cool. After six seconds of my test jump over Roswell, N.M., in March, I flipped forward until I was lying on my back. My higher center of gravity with the oxygen bottles, the parachute, and the massive chest pack put me in this position. My plan was not to fight against the unfamiliar, and in fact incorrect, jumping position. Further down, where the air becomes denser, I would have enough opportunities to correct my position. “Just ride it out” is what skydiving pro Luke Aikins says, and sure enough, I was able to assume a stable position shortly afterward. After a six-second free fall we

already had the answer to one question, namely: In which position would I find myself after jumping? Our bungee test jump hadn’t given us any clarity on this, because when you’re attached to a rope the fun is over after just two seconds. For my record leap from 23 miles it means that I might possibly break the sound barrier on my back, blind and helpless. That is not what you want, but you can’t discount such a horror scenario. Scientists don’t even know what happens when you break the sound barrier. Anticipation is difficult, because I don’t actually know what I should be anticipating. And then there’s the

pressure suit, which basically hinders quick responses. Jumping in a pressure suit is like walking under water, very slow and arduous. In an environment that calls for 100 percent from athletes, the equipment necessary for survival reduces your ability to 30 percent. You can’t train to fly supersonically. When I jump from 23 miles, I’ll have notched up a total of seven minutes of free-fall practice from two test jumps at high altitude: three minutes from the first, four from the second. That’s just seven minutes of experience to break a 52-year-old record. You have to look at this in direct relation. I’ve had to quickly 61

Baumgartner plans to do another test jump from 90,000 feet before he tackles the big one.

gather the knowledge I’ll need for the high altitude: First, how it feels to fly, and second, how to handle the psychological stress of going beyond the “Armstrong Line,” where you’re aware you are surrounded by lethal danger, invisible but nonetheless very real. Even though the first test went well, we were only halfway there. Any mountaineer can climb to 4,000 feet. But Everest is a completely different caliber. People often ask me if I’m afraid heading toward the jump. The opposite is true: I look forward to it, because from the moment I take the leap I get closer to the safety of Mother Earth. This is another thing you can compare to mountaineering: After reaching the summit, the mountaineers descend to base camp; for me I reach a breathable atmosphere. With each passing second, the air becomes more maneuverable, I can control my position, and the greatest problem is relatively trivial— namely, icy cold hands. From then on, the rest of the jump is no big deal anymore: I can do it, I love it, this is my world.



cushion two fat Harley Davidsons. Radio means information, information allows time to react. Even if it had been a broken leg or arm, you don’t want to be lying around in the desert near Roswell. What if I’d been unable to open my visor? The oxygen runs out, I suffocate in my suit, and all because the onboard radio didn’t work? That can’t happen. I’ll only get back into the capsule when the radio works flawlessly. We now know that the mistake originated in the chest pack, which aside from various controls and documentation functions also houses the radio. The device is now being rebuilt, and the specialists from [German communications company] Riedel will sort it out. In the meantime, I’m now feeling generally very confident as far as my equipment is concerned. I’m very happy with how the parachute has been perfected. We should have answers to any

problems we’ll face up there. The greatest unknown is still the breaking of the sound barrier. There is only one way to find out what happens: You have to try it. And that’s exactly what I will do.

“Am I afraid heading toward the jump? The opposite is true. Because the moment I take the leap I get closer to the safety of Mother Earth.”


e’ve practiced everything so many times, from different altitudes, with and without an inflated suit, from a bungee rope and in the wind tunnel. Because of this, the test jump worked with almost frightening precision. When you climb the same mountain for the hundredth time it doesn’t seem as exciting as the first time. You don’t notice the speed. I reached 364.4 mph on this jump—the thirdhighest free-fall speed any human has reached—but it felt like a normal jump. There are no reference points—you don’t feel the speed through the pressure suit. You don’t even notice the sound of speed: Further up you hurtle quickly through few air molecules, further down you go slower through more molecules. At the end of the day it makes no difference. I was afraid, though, of a radio malfunction during the first jump. Not because I want to chat, but because one of our mission goals is to communicate during free fall. Radio failure can be dangerous, as we witnessed from my landing. [Baumgartner lost radio contact briefly after exiting the capsule.] Because I couldn’t direct the helicopter with the flares onboard, I landed with the wind and hit the ground at 4 G. Suit included, I weigh 308 pounds, so my ankles had to



GO TO WWW.REDBULLSTRATOS.COM, TAKE PART IN OUR RED BULL STRATOS DROP ZONE COMPETITION AND WIN AN EXCLUSIVE ZENITH EL PRIMERO STRATOS FLYBACK STRIKING 10TH WATCH. This summer Felix Baumgartner will jump from 120,000 feet in an attempt to break the speed of sound during freefall - for human and scientific advancement. Wind strength and direction will define his flight path and final landing position in the New Mexico desert. Using clues from the weather and landscape, pin the geographical point where you think Felix will land and share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. The closest guess will win a model of the watch that Felix will wear on his record breaking journey – a Zenith El Primero Stratos Flyback Striking 10th. Five runners-up will win Red Bull Stratos merchandise being officially released in August.


7 The launch site of Red Bull Stratos from above.


Roswell Rattlesnakes and ski resorts, gunslingers and aliens, white dunes, and a river named Felix: We went out to take a look at the possible landing sites for Red Bull Stratos. Words: Werner Jessner

IN THIS CHAPTER we head to the quirkiest place in America, Roswell, New Mexico (7.0), the launch (and hopefully landing) area of Red Bull Stratos. 65


years after the alleged UFO crash landing that put the fifth largest city in New Mexico on the map, Roswell is back on the international stage, thanks to Red Bull Stratos. Of course, at the moment, UFOs are still hogging the limelight. A quick count on the drive along Main Street turns up 57 extraterrestrials. Next time, there are bound to be at least another three or four. Little green men advertise virtually everything: Eating, sleeping, drinking, cars, shoes, music, plus of course the whole merchandising cavalcade, from T-shirts with clever slogans (“What if we don’t believe in you?”) on through to paper weights. Only the baker who’s located in a small side alley beside the museum with the rather long-winded name of “International UFO Museum and Research Center” is somewhat ambivalent. Hedging his bets, he also believes in

Baumgartner turned up for his first test jump wearing a bomber jacket—but instead of his name, it said “Alien Hunter.”


Jesus, with stickers for the resurrected and the crash-landed harmoniously side by side on the shop front. And all this because of one William “Mac” Brazel, who, in the summer of 1947, found some strange things on his farm 30 miles north of Roswell. He thought the origin of the debris and balloon remnants scattered about seemed suspect. However, between a telephone call to the local newspaper and the worldwide UFO fever that lasted and was cultivated for decades lay the completely misguided communication policy of the U.S. Air Force: The more they denied, disguised, and hid, the more interested the public became in the story. America, already a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theorists, had found a great topic—and one that could be very nicely stoked over and over again. The International UFO Museum and Research Center on Roswell’s Main Street still oozes the unbeatable charm of the ’70s. Laminated neatly on cardboard are


Apache Ski Resort


Bottomless Lakes State Park

Red Bull Stratos


White Sands

Felix River




Roswell: A thriving city with a population of around 50,000 humans (and countless aliens).


White Sands National Monument: Until 150 years ago this was Mescalero Apache territory.

typewritten placards telling stories of what happened or perhaps didn’t. Always vague enough not to make themselves look completely ridiculous, but still putting the pieces of the puzzle together powerfully enough not to disappoint those who want to believe that aliens made it to Earth. What had Mac Brazel really found? Says Jonathan Clark, medical director of Red Bull Stratos, “Part of a balloon, quite similar to the one we use for our Red Bull Stratos.” And the alleged aliens? Clark laughs. “Instrument-equipped dummies, like those used by the automobile industry for crash tests. In the 1940s such dummies were new, so how could the rural folk of New Mexico of all people have had any idea of what they were?” Roswell thrives on the UFO hubbub: The city has found its USP, it lives well from it, it grows, and you would be as hard

Baumgartner will take flight over Roswell— where he lands is anybody’s guess.

pressed to find a local who doesn’t believe in the existence of aliens as you would be to find an agnostic in the Vatican. What would Roswell be, what would New Mexico be, without aliens? Truth is, it’d probably still be a pretty exciting place. We take Highway 380 toward the east. Not even an hour from the Roswell city center is the Bottomless Lakes State Park. The sun beats down mercilessly; signs warn visitors to bring enough drinking water. The sparse vegetation that grows here is tough, grey, and leathery. These plants have adapted to survive with little moisture, just as all of the specialists here have evolved for these unique conditions: At the Bottomless Lakes, the most northerly stretch of the Chihuahuan Desert meets the prairie, and this yields gypsum deposits. Water dissolves the gypsum and leaves so-called sinkholes—craters in the earth that fill with water. These are the Bottomless Lakes. The turquoise color of the water gave cowboys the idea that they were unfathomable (actually, they are maximum 88.5 feet deep). Over a square mile one can find both fresh and saltwater, flowing and 67


Where the Wild West meets E.T.: Booze, poker, and a pink phone to, um, call home. Meet fellow aliens at the annual UFO festival (“a great place to crash”).

was first established with the wonderful name of “Felix.” Why the change? In honor of James John Hagerman, who had built the railway line from Roswell to where Carlsbad is today. (Carlsbad was called Eddy back then: Seems they like giving towns first names in New Mexico.) Railway lines like these changed the lives of people dramatically. Earlier, cattle herds were driven by cowboys on weeklong marches from south to north and then back again. Now an entire profession has become obsolete. The railway drove the wild right out of the Wild West. Many classic Wild West stories have been played out in this region. What Roswell is to aliens, Lincoln is to the gunslinging, cattle-rustling young outlaw Billy the Kid (famous on the big screen, in

You would be as hard pressed to find a local who doesn’t believe in the existence of aliens as you would be to find an agnostic in the Vatican.


stagnant. Living in this water are fish and frogs that are found nowhere else. And watch out for the rattlesnakes on land. Behind every bend one expects to encounter the trailer of Michael Madsen, aka Budd from Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece Kill Bill 2, with Bill’s exquisite 1969 De Tomaso Mangusta parked out front. But in real life it’s just a retired couple from the north with their gigantic brand-new RV. Linda and AJ are vacationing here. They do every year. It’s because of the area’s good dry air: Linda has problems with her bronchitis, and her reticent husband suffers from arthritis (says Linda). We turn down a side road and cruise along at 50 mph through a landscape picture-perfect enough for a Calexico album cover. A bridge, a sign: Felix River. If Felix Baumgartner is carried to the south by the wind in his capsule, he could actually land at the river that bears his name. The closest town was renamed Hagerman in 1905, which is kind of a shame, really, because back in 1894 it

Felix River Bridge: A good spot to land. When the city of Hagerman just down the road was founded, it was called Felix. How fitting is that?

comics and on TV), who was eventually shot by his ex-buddy, Sheriff Pat Garrett. Lincoln’s celebrated villain was immortalized in Sam Peckinpah’s movie of 1973 (mostly because of Bob Dylan’s ingenious soundtrack) and is now a fixture in the canon of ultimate westerns. Here, in the area around Lincoln, William H. Bonney, apparently the real name of Billy the Kid, lived, shot, killed, loved, hid, and was captured. The border between the U.S. and Mexico has always attracted dubious characters—people who have switched allegiances, or disappeared. The border serves as a cutoff line between two worlds, between two lives: The cattle rustlers from the prairie who hid here; Black Jack Pershing, who led an expedition of men into Mexico to rout Pancho Villa; a poor smuggler, the unrequited love for a Mexican señorita, the Pueblos, the Mescaleros, the Apache, the Zuni. Those traveling through can recognize Indian territory first and

foremost by the roadside casinos that sprang up and have brought a lucrative income for Native American tribes in the wake of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. And there is normally a liquor store nearby. It’s a picturesque but somewhat sad part of the country. Should the wind blow Baumgartner a quick hour’s drive a little farther north, he might think he’s landed back home in Austria. The Ski Apache Resort in Mescalero is a full-fledged ski region even by Central European standards: nine lifts, more black runs than blue, the Sierra Blanca Peak at an elevation of 11,981 feet, and an annual average snowfall of almost 15 feet. On the horizon you can see the bone-dry Chihuahuan Desert. It’s almost impossible to get more diversity over such a small area. If New Mexico were an apartment, it would be located in the city center of Tokyo and outfitted with Swedish furniture. Should the southeasterly be a touch weaker, Baumgartner still might land in white powder but this time in gypsum sand. At 270 square miles, White Sands is the largest gypsum desert in the world, spectacular not only for its giant white dunes but also for all of the plants and animals that manage to survive in these conditions. However, Baumgartner would be well advised to be careful in choosing his landing spot. Part of White Sands is a drone and rocket test site for the U.S. Army. Here, on July 16, 1945, the first nuclear bomb of the Manhattan Project was detonated. And 30 years ago the space shuttle Columbia landed here because of bad weather at the original landing site, Edwards Air Force Base in California. In fact, it is somewhat improbable that Baumgartner will be blown

The International UFO Museum and Research Center on Roswell’s Main Street still oozes the unbeatable charm of the ’70s. 69

The airport in Roswell doubles as an aviation parking lot, at times hosting more than 300 planes.


Where exactly will Felix Baumgartner land when he jumps from the edge of space? It’s your guess. Go to and take part in the Drop Zone competition. This is how it works: Decide your position based on wind speed, wind direction, temperature and hints from Red Bull Stratos experts. Pin your position and share it with friends (Drop Zone works with full Google Maps functionality). Verify your identity via Facebook or Twitter. The fan whose pin is closest to Felix’s actual landing position (longitude/latitude) wins a prize money can’t buy: A souvenir from the mission. Details at


this far to the west. But what if he were to descend exactly to the place of his departure? The airport in Roswell, the location that will serve as the launching pad for Red Bull Stratos, is the former Walker Air Force Base, which the military handed to the city on June 30, 1967. The Roswell airport and the Walker Air Force Base have a checkered history. During World War II, pilots were trained here. The two bombers that dropped the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were stationed here. When the military left they took everything with them. What remained were the runways: More than 5,000 acres inside the fenced terrain alone. How does one manage such an expanse of tarmac with air connections? In 1991, the clever people of Roswell turned it into a parking area for aircraft. In the spring of 2012, 200 planes stood in Roswell. At the time the U.S. economy hit rock bottom the number was 350, says Jennifer Brady, “and we had more space available if we’d needed it.” She has worked at the Roswell airport since 1983; today the petite lady is the airport manager. In fact, a few of the aircraft have been here since 1991. The fees they have run up must be stratospheric by now. The billing system works like in a parking lot. “We charge by the day, and in three different tariffs depending on the size of the plane,” explains Brady. The business is seasonal. In springtime, when vacation season starts, many planes leave, only to return again in the fall. Brady and her team are a flexible bunch, relatively undaunted and open

to special requests. She was a little surprised, though, when Joe Kittinger, the current record holder for a parachute jump and one of Baumgartner’s closest advisors, and some of the Red Bull Stratos crew walked into her office three years ago. But because the airport is a part of the municipal authorities, their request was met with open arms: Yes, Roswell had no problem serving as host for Red Bull Stratos. An agreement was made for the area out at the back of the airfield grounds, where two empty hangars stand: Perfect for Red Bull Stratos, and far enough away from the parked aircraft, the normal air traffic, and all the UFO freaks, who have just one destination in mind: Hangar 84, where the alleged aliens were examined after their crash landing in 1947. When all goes according to plan, Roswell will get a second attraction this summer alongside the UFOs. “We have plenty of room for a Red Bull Stratos monument at the airport,” says Brady. And Baumgartner, the man with a feeling for the locals, turned up for his first test jump wearing a bomber jacket—but instead of his name, it said “Alien Hunter.” Roswell loved him for that.


When the military left they took everything with them. What remained were the runways.

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“We want to push mankind’s boundaries out a little further” Felix Baumgartner, Red Bull Stratos



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