As we speak, the editors from TIME magazine are once again convening to determine who the Person of the Year will be. Intended to identify the person who has most influenced the news, previous winners include such names as Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, and current president Barack Obama. You might recall that last year’s winner wasn’t a specific person at all, it was The Protestor.
This year’s candidates include social and political dissidents (Ai Weiwei, Malala Yousafzai, Pussy Riot), Olympic athletes (Gabrielle Douglas, Mo Farah, Michael Phelps), politicians (Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, both Hillary and Bill Clinton, Mohamed Morsi), and even popular entertainers (Jay-Z, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart), but a name that you may not immediately expect is Felix Baumgartner, who captivated a worldwide audience with his record jump from space.
The Records That Fell
Extreme sports met aerospace and technology with the Red BullStratos event Oct. 14. The sound barrier breaking skydive broke records not only in science but also in social media. YouTube reports that 8 million people watched the two-hour event live, with a 20-second delay in case something went wrong. That was the largest audience of concurrent viewers in YouTube’s history. The dive was 5 years in the making.
The skydiver, Felix Baumgartner set records of his own for the highest jump from a platform (128,100 feet), longest freefall (119,846 feet), and he is the first person to reach supersonic speed at 833.9 mph, or Mach 1.24. He was supported by a team of 300 people, including scientists, engineers, medical experts and, most notably Joe Kittinger, the 84-year-old whose record Baumgartner sought to break. Kittinger jumped 102,800 feet in 1960, and he served as Baumgartner’s primary point of radio contact during the dive.
Baumgartner is used to taking risks, as his first jump was at 16 years old and he has jumped from the world’s tallest building — the 101 Tower in Taipei (1,669.96 feet). He is a licensed gas-balloon pilot and a commercial and private helicopter pilot. According to one helicopter accident attorney, the risks of flying low to the ground are significant because of dangers of radio towers, tall buildings, utility poles and other tall natural and man-made structures.
The 43-year-old daredevil lists his profession as stunt coordinator, skydiver and B.A.S.E. jumper, and pilot, according to his website. B.A.S.E. means he jumps from buildings, antennas, spans (bridges) and earth (cliffs). An interesting piece of trivia: He had to overcome a serious case of claustrophobia before undertaking the test ascensions in his one-man capsule.
More Than Just a Jump
The Red Bull Stratos mission was held on the same day — Oct. 14, 1947 — that 65 years ago Chuck Yeager became the first person to fly supersonic (also known as breaking the sound barrier) in an airplane. While millions of people watched Baumgartner’s freefall, 89-year-old Yeager flew with an Air Force captain over the Mojave Desert at 10:24 a.m. in an F-15.
Baumgartner told USA Today that the Oct. 14 date was “pure luck,” and that the original flight was postponed because of weather.
“It was a great honor to break the sound barrier outside of a plane on this day,” he is quoted as saying. “I don’t know where Chuck Yeager is, but he is one man I’d like to meet.”
Aside from the brand recognition that Red Bull will no doubt benefit from, the Stratos jump also made contributions to science, according to the company’s website. Other media outlets spent the day speculating on how the event would contribute to consumer space travel. The space suit in particular was cited for improved mobility, which helps with evacuations and provides adequate protection at high altitudes and high speeds.