I know that if I were preparing for a 23-mile free-fall, I’d want to do as much testing as humanly possible. According to this recent Wired article (and video) that’s the same approach being taken by Felix Baumgartner. Here are the details of this excpetion in-the-wild stunt:
Baumgartner plans to take a helium balloon called Stratos to an altitude of almost 23 miles and step into the void wearing nothing more than a pressurized suit and oxygen tanks, not to mention a parachute. He figures the free fall almost to Earth will take five minutes — covering a distance only 3 miles short of a marathon — and he’ll be traveling faster than the speed of sound (690 mph at that altitude) within 30 seconds.
Of all the typical stunts Red Bull is famous for — jumping great distances on a motorcycle, flying in winged suits or soaring in a Formula 1 car — the Stratos project has some scientific merit. One goal is to study what’s needed to successfully jump from a vehicle at extremely high altitudes, like those an astronaut may experience in an aborted launch.
Baumgartner and his team are working through several issues that have been discovered during testing, which includes bungee jumps and practice skydives. Early on Baumgartner spent time working through the procedure for simply stepping off the capsule that will carry him so high. The question is whether even a gentle push off from the capsule could cause unwanted motion and lead to an uncontrollable tumble.
The last part of the testing involved skydives from 26,000 feet, again wearing the pressurized suit. Earlier jumps this spring frustrated Baumgartner because of the lack of mobility in the suit. Several jumps were made, and he was able to successfully maneuver during the free fall as well as test a new chest pack that gives him better visibility during landing.