Cameron M. Smith.
Image by Wired courtesy Wired, SOURCE
Joby Ogwyn.
courtesy www.jobyogwyn.com, SOURCE
"I started to speed up," Felix said. "It was really brutal at times."
Image by Luke Aikins courtesy Red Bull Stratos, SOURCE

ExWeb record jump current: word from private space suit designer and wing suit glider about Baumgartner attempt

Posted: Oct 09, 2012 04:22 am EDT
(Tina Sjogren) If all goes to plan in a few hours Felix Baumgartner will ascend in a helium balloon to an altitude of 120,000 ft/36,576 m and jump out of his capsule becoming the first person to break the speed of sound (768 mph at sea level) during freefall.

The skydiver already reached 536mph/863kph in training. To imagine the speed: compare to average flight speed for a commercial airliner at 500 mph.

As for the altitude, the Kármán line, at 62 miles (100 km) above sea level, is conventionally used as the start of space. But space for man usually starts at 62000 ft (19 km) says test pilot, balloon pioneer and Felix's mentor Joe Kittinger, "above that the blood boils and without a pressure suit you die very quickly."

The tech

"This kind of jump is mostly about technology," confirmed California/Italy based high altitude speed climber-turned-wing suit glider Joby Ogwyn in relation to an interview we'll run with him later this week.

So ExWeb checked in with Oregon based private designer of Space suits Cameron M. Smith for his take. There's one crux, he said:

"I think Felix's pressure suit -- a modified version of the pressure suits worn by SR71 crews -- is very unlikely to fail," Cameron told us.

"Close examination of photos shows me that he has multiple backups. Preparation videos show that he has suit technicians, just like in a space program, installing him in the suit and checking all of its systems. He has tested the suit in a hypobaric chamber as well."

"There is one element, however, that cannot have a backup; the visor. If it breaks above about 30,000 feet, it is all over."

"A Russian balloon pilot cracked a visor in the 1930's, with fatal results, so it is not a trivial concern. Today's visors are polycarbonate, like that worn by lunar astronauts, and it is very tough. But at the extremely low temperatures Felix will be exposed to once the hatch is opened, (ed note: -60C/F) strange things happen to many materials!"

"They become brittle. Regarding this danger, it looks like Felix's hatch is good and roomy. Once he is out 'on the porch' with the helmet past the bulkhead, he will be a bit safer. Then the mission is to get down, and get down fast!"

No surprises and don't think

According to reports, one of the bigger changes is that Felix's suit is made of Goretex over previous plastic. The suit is just one part of the challenge.

To endure the supersonic freefall, the parachute rig is three times heavier (60 lbs) and 3x bigger than normal. There's one small stabilizing chute (considered assistance should Felix have to use it that will invalidate the record), one main and one reserve chute, and two O2 bottles (lasting 10 min on that altitude). Because the suit is bulky, Felix can't see his release/cutoff handles and must be able to reach them by heart.

Perhaps most important is Kittinger's advice echoing sky-skiing veterans urging us to climb what we'll ski: "Wear the suit until you like it," the fighter pilot reportedly told Felix, "or you'll be too afraid and fail."

Another lesson, often told to gymnasts before their aerial attempts, has been adapted by Felix as well: Don't think of the outcome, but focus on each step in the task.

That's exactly what the jumper said he's currently doing and one thing's fo sure -- the adventure community is watching.

Ended Cameron: "Good luck Felix and Team! Have a grand adventure! My heart pumps faster just imagining it!"

Says Joby: "I don’t know Felix personally but I think his space jump is awesome."

Note from Cameron: I mentioned that the suit was tested in a chamber: it also endured two test jumps so far, one from about 70k feet (March 2012) and one from 96k feet (July 2012). These are verified here.

Stand by here for live broadcast.

Previous story.

On July 25th, 2012 Baumgartner jumped from an altitude of 96,640ft / 29,455m at 536mph/863kph; after 3 minutes and 48 seconds in freefall leading up to a 10 minute and 36 descent.
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