On the fifth anniversary of the record jump from the edge of space, we asked Felix Baumgartner and other key Red Bull Stratos team members for their memories of the incredible day.
On October 14, 2012, the world was spellbound as the Red Bull Stratos project launched a helium balloon to near space, where Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped from 38,969.4m/127,852.4ft to become the first, and so far only, person to break the speed of sound without the protection or propulsion of a vehicle. The project broke numerous records and contributed valuable data to the scientific community. Five years later to the day, Baumgartner and key team members are celebrating at a special Red Bull Stratos exhibition held in conjunction with the season finale of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Baumgartner – as well as Joe Kittinger (Flight Operations and Safety, Capcom 1), Art Thompson (Technical Project Director) and Mike Todd (Life Support Engineer) – took time to answer some questions. Here are excerpts from that extraordinary exchange.
Felix, happy anniversary. How does it feel?
Felix Baumgartner: “I think this is amazing. It’s like Christmas, birthday and New Year’s Eve all at the same time, because it’s Indianapolis, it’s the last Red Bull Air Race of the season and it’s our anniversary, so I’m getting to meet with a lot of the team. It’s really cool to see everyone again and share some stories.”
Overcoming your issues with the suit turned out to be one of the most dramatic stories over five years of developing Red Bull Stratos?
Felix Baumgartner: “You know, at the time I was really struggling because I never liked the suit. The suit is a very complex tool, and while it’s necessary to survive, it’s no fun to wear it – you’re kind of locked in your own little world. That was a time when I had a lot of internal problems with myself, mentally, but I couldn’t talk to anyone.”
The Red Bull Stratos balloon was the largest ever launched with a human on board, and it took a lot of testing with various sizes of balloons before the final launch?
Joe Kittinger: “Balloons are very fragile creatures, requiring perfect conditions for launch, and the critical part is getting inflated. When that balloon took off, a lot of people were extremely happy.”
Felix Baumgartner: “When we launched the balloon and finally the capsule got released from the ground, I knew we were on the way. We were still at the beginning, but the balloon launch was the first step. Once that was successful, I was a lot more relaxed.”
Art, you were the technical project director. What do you think when you saw the capsule?
Art Thompson: “It’s pride for the team, for what we accomplished together as a family – which is what this group really is. This was an effort of people with a passion to accomplish a scientific task. We have a personal bond, and it doesn’t matter how far we are stretched around the world, there’s a certain pride that what we accomplished was significant to the aerospace industry and inspired so many. It’s about all of us together.”
With five years to reflect on it, what do you now think some of the mission’s biggest accomplishments were?
Joe Kittinger: “One of the significant contributions that I think we made was developing features toward the next generation full-pressure suit, so astronauts in the future will have increased mobility. Also, the team proved out a completely new approach to physiological monitoring, which was really a contribution for the scientific community.”
Art Thompson: “Over the last five years what Red Bull Stratos has really showed me is the impact it had on people around the world, to inspire them to do better and be better. We’ve given talks around the globe and met with educators, and kids come to me all the time wanting to know how to get into aerospace, or how to get into science.”
Felix Baumgartner: “Everything we accomplished really proves what a small group of people can do. We were very uncertain at the beginning if it was ever going to be successful, because there were so many unknowns that we had to overcome. But now we know that everything you have in your mind can turn into reality if you work with the right people, if you put the effort into it and you go the extra mile.”
On the moment Felix jumped from the capsule…
Joe Kittinger: “He was standing there on the shoulders of a couple-hundred team members, a great team of people working for his benefit. I was thinking of all the people and the contributions they made to put him on that step. It was a historic moment because of a great team of people who made it happen.”
Felix Baumgartner: “That moment was definitely why we all worked so hard. All that effort for five years, all those hurdles we had to overcome. Finally standing on top of the world, knowing that the whole world was watching, was quite extraordinary. Then you take that one step forward and you’re on the way, not knowing what to expect. Nobody knew what would happen to a person breaking the speed of sound, but I had to find out, and I will always remember that moment.”