Thursday, 7 June 2012

Faster than the Speed of Sound

Hot on the heels of Gary Connery's recent wingsuit heroics, step forwards Felix Baumgartner.  Felix will attempt to jump from the edge of space this August, and in the process break several records set over half a century ago by Joseph Kittinger.  You can see an excellent video of Kittinger's jump here (starting around 4:21) and it is truly surreal,
  • On August 16, 1960, Joseph Kittinger jumped his last Excelsior jump, doing so from an air-thin height of 102,800 feet (31,334 meters). From that nearly 20 miles altitude, his tumble toward terra firma took some 4 minutes and 36 seconds. Exceeding the speed of sound during the fall, Kittinger used a small stabilizing chute before a larger, main parachute opened in the denser atmosphere. He safely touched down in barren New Mexico desert, 13 minutes 45 seconds after he vaulted into the void. The jump set records that still stand today, among them, the highest parachute jump, the longest freefall, and the fastest speed ever attained by a human through the atmosphere. Somewhat in contention is Kittinger's use of the small parachute for stabilization during his record-setting fall. Roger Eugene Andreyev, a Russian, is touted as holding the world's free fall record of 80,325 feet (24,483 meters), made on November 1, 1962.

Felix Baumgartner seeks to go higher and fall faster!  There is a great interview with him here,
  • Later this summer - the plan is to do it in August - I will get into a pressurised space capsule in Roswell, New Mexico, go up to 120,000 feet [36,600 metres], depressurise the capsule and step out. Within the first 35 seconds I'll accelerate so fast that I'll break the speed of sound.
One of the dangers mentioned is Felix going in to a flat spin,
  • If you spin with your head towards the centre, blood leaves the head and you pass out. If you spin with your feet to the centre, you get a red-out. The blood rushes to your head, you get an aneurysm in your brain or a cerebral haemorrhage. There is a g metre on Felix's wrist that controls for a flat spin and we developed an emergency drogue parachute, which can pull his head high and stop the rotation.

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