Felix Baumgartner
April 9, 2013 4:39 PM   Subscribe

The Man Who Pierced the Sky. "When Felix Baumgartner [autoplays sound] set out to make a living by stunt jumping—from cliffs, buildings, and bridges—the young Austrian had no idea where it would take him: to a pressurized capsule nearly 24 miles above New Mexico, last October 14, preparing to free-fall farther than any man in history, and at supersonic speed. Detailing Baumgartner’s quest, William Langewiesche explores what drove him to ever greater heights."
posted by homunculus (17 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Was thinking about him earlier, when someone mentioned in the thread about tarantulas as big as your face that some spiders float along on threads up to four miles above the ground. Explains why Felix was possibly in such a hurry to get back to Earth.

The jump: still watch it on YouTube occasionally, and it still gives me an "OMG he opened the capsule door onto SPACE!!" moment.
posted by Wordshore at 4:48 PM on April 9, 2013

An odd career, but I guess he just sort of fell into it.
posted by GuyZero at 4:51 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I went to a stoneware convention last October 14. I watched the jump live on my cell phone while my girlfriend got to get excited about 100 year old antique crocks. It was a pretty weird cognative thing for me, since I kept thinking that the people who made the stoneware butter churns and clay jugs could never have imagined not only a world where a man could jump from the edge of space but that some jagoff could watch him do it on a damn phone in the middle of no-where Iowa.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:01 PM on April 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

In the jump video, it always bugs me how the fish-eye lens exaggerates the curvature of the earth. It makes him look about ten times higher than he was. Was there a practical reason for using that lens, or was it just for dramatic effect?
posted by Conductor71 at 5:15 PM on April 9, 2013

Was there a practical reason for using that lens, or was it just for dramatic effect?

I made the assumption it was for the shallow field of focus. They would use a totally different lens if there has been a person in a second vehicle.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:23 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I went to a stoneware convention last October 14.

This is the best sentence ever.
posted by percor at 5:29 PM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Was there a practical reason for using that lens, or was it just for dramatic effect? to maximize the stunt's value as an advertising/promotional vehicle for Red Bull?

There. FTFY.
posted by carmicha at 5:57 PM on April 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well... obviously, I've gotta read this article. Thanks for posting it.
posted by ph00dz at 6:30 PM on April 9, 2013

When I jump from the edge of space I usually just do some charcoal sketches to kinda catch the mood on the way down.
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:38 PM on April 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

The main problem the program addressed is the tendency of human bodies falling through ultra-thin air to accelerate into uncontrollable flat spins. At the extreme, these spins may have rotation rates greater than three times around every second—producing G loads sufficient to cause cerebral hemorrhage and death. The solution, as Kittinger demonstrated at great risk to himself, is the use of a small drogue parachute, about six feet across, which serves to tame the spin. Ejection systems have since been equipped with just such stabilizing drogues, and countless lives have been saved as a result.

Love Langewiesche's writing. I know I'll always learn something new.
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:10 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Was there a practical reason for using that lens, or was it just for dramatic effect?

cjorgensen kind of says this, but I'll clarify. Given that there was no chase vehicle, you're basically stuck with this kind of distortion. You can see the camera mountings on the ascent vehicle in this photograph (the cameras are in protective casings at that point). To be able to fit Baumgartner fully into the frame at a distance of maybe 1.5 m (or less?), you're also going to fit a massive section of the planetary edge into the frame, and that will exaggerate its curvature. Note that a similarly wide angle lens had to be used inside the capsule as well (at an even tighter distance between subject and camera).

The images are masterfully realized, but often the most compelling (or "misleading") visuals emerge from technical limitations, rather than an extensive field of choice.
posted by waterunderground at 7:13 PM on April 9, 2013

Yep, purely practical. Think of it as the photographic equivalent of those hemispherical mirrors in convenience stores. You see a wider field of view, but gain some distortion away from center.
posted by ShutterBun at 7:34 PM on April 9, 2013

well, this is a tangent (or a AskMe), but can we do something is post production to remove some of the distortion. Kind of how we can have different projections for maps of Earth?
posted by sideshow at 8:23 PM on April 9, 2013

I was curious about William Weaver (mentioned on page 4 of the article), who had the early "stealth" plane the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird going Mach 3.18 fail and disintegrate around him and thereby showed that pressure suits could protect a "naked" human body above the speed of sound, and found this crazy-fascinating first-person account (quotes which I've edited with ellipses for some high points):
"I attempted to tell Jim what was happening and to stay with the airplane until we reached a lower speed and altitude. I didn't think the chances of surviving an ejection at Mach 3.18 and 78,800 ft. were very good. ... Still trying to communicate with Jim, I blacked out, succumbing to extremely high g-forces. Then the SR-71 . . literally . . disintegrated around us. ... Gradually regaining consciousness ... I realized I was not dead. But somehow I had separated from the airplane."
He lands and is immediately rescued by a helicopter-flying cowboy ranch-owner who saw the plane explode and followed the parachutes down. The cowboy helps him get his chute off (emphasis mine):
"Extracting myself from the parachute harness, I discovered the source of those flapping-strap noises heard on the way down. My seat belt and shoulder harness were still draped around me, attached and latched. The lap belt had been shredded on each side of my hips, where the straps had fed through knurled adjustment rollers. The shoulder harness had shredded in a similar manner across my back. The ejection seat had never left the airplane; I had been ripped out of it by the extreme forces, seat belt and shoulder harness still fastened."
Jim died, but Weaver had only a few bruises and a mild case of whiplash. Everyone assumed he was dead because nobody could have survived the accident, so he had to call mission control when he got to the hospital and be like, "Hey, guess what!" TWO WEEKS LATER, he was back in the same type of plane flying more test missions, and during take-off on his first flight back:
"I heard an anxious voice over the intercom. " Bill ! Bill ! Are you there ?" " Yeah, George. What's the matter ?" " Thank God ! I thought you might have left. " The rear cockpit of the SR-71 has no forward visibility-only a small window on each side-and George couldn't see me. A big red light on the master-warning panel in the rear cockpit had illuminated just as we rotated, stating: " Pilot Ejected." Fortunately, the cause was a misadjusted micro switch, not my departure."
What. The. Hell. God must extra-love this man.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:55 PM on April 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

what drove him to ever greater heights

A balloon, innit.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:12 AM on April 10, 2013

Red Bull is an Austrian company, and a big deal in that town.

posted by Halloween Jack at 5:16 AM on April 10, 2013

Felix Baumgartner in Lego
posted by Omnomnom at 12:38 PM on April 10, 2013

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