Fearless Felix and the end of the NASA era

Updated
Felix Baumgartner, the new king of skydiving, successfully jumped 24 miles from space to earth.
Felix Baumgartner, the new king of skydiving, successfully jumped 24 miles from space to earth.

Twenty-four miles above the earth and with 8 million people watching over the Internet, Felix Baumgartner became the first person to break the sound barrier on Sunday. The jump, which was part of the Red Bull Stratos project, was monitored by a crew of 300 people from the ground in Roswell, New Mexico. The 43-year-old Austrian broke speed records, traveling over 800 mph, after fighting off thin air, fog in his visor and his own claustrophobia.

The jump comes just a few months after President Obama asked for $17.7 billion to keep NASA running. Even though that’s a lot of money, that is the lowest amount NASA has received in four years. With the retirement of the shuttle program, and the private company SpaceX launching its own Dragon spacecraft, it seems that the era of NASA may be coming to end.

Baumgartner’s five-year project , financed by Red Bull Energy Drink, culminated yesterday when not only altitude and speed records were smashed, but a new space suit and other data were tested. According to Joe Kittinger, a former Air Force colonel who previously held records now broken by Baumgartner, “Future astronauts will wear the spacesuit that Felix test-jumped today.” The project also set out to test possible escape plans for astronauts and to see how the human body held up after soaring past the sound barrier.

That doesn’t mean the jump went perfectly. During his ascent, “Fearless Felix” had difficulty seeing through his visor when it began fogging up – causing engineers on the ground to consider abandoning the jump altogether. After he stepped off the thin plastic module and started his return to earth, the real danger came. Falling 128,000+ feet above the earth, approaching a speed of Mach 1, Baumgartner was unable to control his body while in free fall due to the thin air and a thickness of his suit. His biggest fear, at that point, was that blood would flow outward from the center of his body. Speaking with reporters later on Baumgartner said, “At a certain R.P.M. there’s only one way for blood to leave your body, and that’s through your eyeballs.”

After landing (on his feet, by the way), Felix Baumgartner became the first human being to sky dive from top of the world. Microchips planted in his space suit (branded with the bright red lettering of the Red Bull logo) will be analyzed to see just how fast he actually travelled, but there is no doubt the new records are his. As he stepped out onto the small plastic platform, he told viewers, “I know the whole world is watching, and I wish the whole world could see what I see. Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you are.” He saluted and jumped.

Fearless Felix and the end of the NASA era

Updated