Felix Baumgartner makes history, professors talk jump specifics
Published: Monday, October 22, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 19:04
History was made last Sunday when Austrian Felix Baumgartner dove from the verge of space, descended 24 miles and landed safely by parachute on the ground in New Mexico. Baumgartner’s jump on Oct. 14 was the highest in history, breaking the previous record by 4.5 miles, according to an ABC Newsw report.
David Legates, a geography professor, said that from the height Baumgartner jumped, he would have been essentially on the edge of space. Baumgartner’s suit was especially vital at this height, Legates said. If he had not been wearing it, Baumgartner would not only have been unable to breathe, but he would have essentially disintegrated in mid-air, Legates said.
“He has to have a breathing suit, and he has to have a high-pressure suit from that height,” Legates said. “Even people that fly planes in the stratosphere, about seven or eight miles below him, would have to have that pressurized suit on.”
The suit would have also been designed to resist an excessive amount of heat, Legates said, because as Baumgartner fell through the atmosphere, his body would build up heat. Legates said one of the best examples of heat resistant-material are the space shuttles.
During a visit to Cape Canaveral, Fla., which is where most American space shuttle launches take place, Legates said there is a demonstration where a guide holds an inch-wide space shuttle’ launch, heating one side with a blow torch. After several minutes, the guide stops heating the panel, then touches the side he was previously torching without burning his hand, showing the heat-resistant properties of Baumgartner’s suit.
Baumgartner would not have faced any weather-related problems at the point from which he jumped, Legates said. Any issues that would arise would have happened after about two-thirds of Baumgartner’s fall, when he is entering the troposphere. This atmospheric region is about eight miles high, Legates said.
“The concern is not really what the weather is where Baumgartner’s jumping, it is more what the weather is that he is jumping into,” Legates said. “You want fairly clear skies so he can see what’s going on, you don’t want thunderstorms or cloud cover.”
Baumgartner also ran the risk of passing out at that speed and air pressure, especially if he began to spin. In order to achieve this kind of feat, someone would have to be in their top physical condition, similar to astronauts, Legates said.
Freshman John Cooney said he was not concerned that Baumgartner would be successful, considering the time and effort he put in preparation.
“He had been practicing for seven years, so I think that he had it down pretty well,” Cooney said. “I only saw the highlights, but it was really impressive to see someone actually jump down from space.”
During the jump, Baumgartner, who reached a maximum of 833 miles per hour, broke the sound barrier.
Dermot Mullan, a physics and astronomy professor, said Baumgartner was going faster than the atoms around him. The atoms cannot get ouwwt of the way, so a sonic boom builds up in front of the falling object. Baumgartner, however, probably did not feel any real difference when he broke the barrier, Mullan said.
“Someone outside might hear a bang when the shockwave crosses over them, but the person who is falling would not really hear anything,” Mullan said. “They may feel like there was an intense force, and they might feel a bit more turbulence, but there really is not an essential difference.”