It was on Oct 14, 2012 that Austrian pilot and base jumper, Felix Baumgartner, went to the edge of space and made it back alive. His mission was to embark on a historic journey and complete the highest and fastest free fall ever by man. Felix also became the first person to skydive the sound barrier. National Geographic, in collaboration with BBC, captured this exclusive landmark event and the four-year metamorphosis of Felix from base jumper to an extreme altitude specialist that can think and act like an astronaut.
But this mission could not be done alone. Felix and a team of 30 engineers pushed the boundaries of science to design and build the proper equipment to help Felix come back to from space safely. Also, the help of Colonel Joe Kittinger, who leapt back to earth in his historic free fall in August 1960, helped Felix overcome his fears and break the record that he set as a young pilot many years ago. Since Joe Kittinger’s record-setting jump, two men have died in similar attempts.
Felix overcame the physical and aptitude training and battled with a dangerous claustrophobic reaction to his pressure suit that can not only have cost him the mission, but ultimately cost him his life.
Here is a closer glimpse at the pressurized Red Bull Stratos capsule that was designed to protect Felix during his ascent. The overall structure of the capsule, which weighed around 2,900 pounds fully loaded, can be described in terms of four components:
- Pressure sphere: Where Felix is positioned throughout the ascent. It is pressurized to 8 pounds per square inch, which will significantly reduce the risk of decompression sickness during the ascent without requiring Felix to inflate his pressure suit.
- Cage: The strong steel alloy is frequently used in motorsports and aerospace industries.
- Shell: surrounds the pressure sphere and cage and is the part of the capsule that is visible to the observer. It provides protection and insulation in the stratosphere where temperatures near -70° F.
- Base and crush pads: They provide protection and are for one-time-only use and must be replaced after every flight. Engineers performed more than 150 drop tests to develop the crush pads.
Catch this historic and exclusive landmark National Geographic documentary on Explorer: Space Dive Sunday at 7P that follows Felix Baumgartner, the first man to ever free fall through the sound barrier.