Kittinger: “It’s pushing the outer limits”

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Kittinger. Recognize the name? In 1960 USAF Colonel Joseph Kittinger parachuted from an altitude of 102,800ft – and lived to tell the tale. What could possibly cause Kittinger, whose office was literally the outer limits, to state something else will be pushing the outer limits? A new jump, this time by Austrian Felix Baumgartner: A freefall from 120,000ft that will test human endurance and likely set a record for human freefall; a record that will break the speed of sound for a freefalling human.

Planenews Aviation News

To do this, Baumgartner will be taken 23 miles above the Earth’s surface by balloon into the lower levels of the stratosphere, an ascent that should take 2 to 3 hours. The edge of space is regarded as 100 kilometers (62 miles) and NASA awards astronaut status to those traveling above 50 miles so Baumgartner is certainly not in uncharted territory. However, no other human has attempted to freefall from such an altitude and no other human has broken the speed barrier without a vehicle of some sort around him or her.

What will the “spacediver” encounter on the way down? He’ll fall about 60,000ft in a near frictionless environment allowing his body to accelerate to more than 768mph (the speed of sound). He’ll fall 55,000ft before he reaches the high altitude record set by hot air balloon. In another 5,000ft he’ll reach the tops of the tallest cumulonimbus clouds (60,000ft). After falling 62,000ft he’ll reach the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere and will begin to slow, eventually reaching terminal velocity. If the Concorde jet was still flying, he’d reach the supersonic jet’s cruising altitude of 55,000ft after falling 65,000ft. Commercial airliners typically travel at about 35,000ft and Baumgartner will have to fall another 35,000ft before air traffic control will have to re-route 737’s around his descending trajectory. After falling for almost 91,000ft he’ll reach the height of the tallest point on Earth, Mt. Everest (29,028ft). At 12,000 or 13,000ft above the Earth he’ll be in the range of recreational skydivers. At 10,000ft he’ll be in bald eagle territory and able to breath without supplied oxygen (his space suit, of course, will not allow this).

Colonel Kittinger’s freefall lasted four minutes and 36 seconds while attaining a maximum speed of 614mph.

Colonel Kittinger steps from his gondola at a height of 102,800ft. Wiki.

At this time, there has not been a date announced for the Baumgartner freefall, just some time in 2010. How long his freefall lasts, the speed he ultimately reaches, how many records will be broken and the quality of the data recorded remains to be seen.

More on Felix Baumgartner and the record-breaking jump: Red Bull Stratos.


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