Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Red Bull Stratos Cancelled, Again

For what seems like the hundredth time, the Felix Baumgartner's record-breaking freefall from the Red Bull Stratos balloon has been postponed. There was originally a five-hour delay because of a radio failure, and the weather had deteriorated enough to make take-off impossible by the time the radios were fixed. For those that don't know, the Stratos website explains everything much better than I can, but I'll try to give you a quick summary.

The current record height for a parachute jump is 102,800ft, set in 1960 by US Air Force Colonel Joe Kittinger. The goal of the Red Bull Stratos "Mission" (as they are calling it) is to break that record with Austrian Felix Baumgartner jumping from a height of 120,000ft.

The mission is partly for the record, but science hopes to learn from his jump as well. Based on mathematical calculation, Felix's body will break the sound barrier during his freefall, becoming the first human to do so. What exactly will happen to his body when he does, is up for debate.

Other dangers (and attempts to study human physiology at the edge of space) include freezing temperatures (as low as -90F), extreme lack of oxygen, and air pressure so low that blood literally "boils" with vapor bubbles.

To combat this, he will be wearing a full pressure suit, similar to what modern astronauts wear. Also, his capsule that he will ride up in is fully pressurized and heated. His chest pack will contain two bottles of oxygen that contain enough breathable air for 10 minutes at altitude.

Baumgartner in his suit during a practice jump. His highest practice jump was just over 97,000ft, the second highest ever.

To stop his freefall and return him safely to Earth, Baumgartner will wear three separate parachute, designed specifically for the Red Bull Stratos project. The first two are a main chute and a reserve. The third is an interesting device called a "drogue" chute which is designed to stop a flat spin. A flat spin is incredibly dangerous to parachutist because the G forces can either render them unconscious, and unable to pull their chute, or the centrifugal force will be so great that they cannot bring their arms into their body to pull their chute's ripcord. Felix hopes to not have to use the drogue because it will slow him down.

In case something goes drastically wrong, Baumgartner will have a button on his ring finger to deploy the drogue. Also, if his on board computer detects 3.5Gs for 6 continuous seconds the drogue will automatically deploy.

The jump is going to be streamed live on the Red Bull Stratos website, and I was able to watch today until the cancellation. They have yet to announce the date of the next attempt, but it will be shown live as well.

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