A combination of technical problems and gusty winds caused Feliz Baumgartner’s record-breaking 23-mile supersonic skydive attempt to be aborted just as the balloon was being inflated today. They had a good window of calm winds to work with, but weren’t able to get the balloon off before a gust of wind came along and blew parts of the partially inflated balloon onto the ground. This is a dicey situation, because the balloon material is so delicate and folded so meticulously that once it’s been unfolded, it cannot be deflated and used again. As far as I can gather from what was said during live webcast, they only have one backup balloon. Since this is the largest balloon of its type ever made or used, it’s REALLY expensive, so they really have to get it right on the next attempt.
The air at the surface, and for roughly the first 1,000 feet off the ground, must be absolutely still for the launch to happen safely. Even a little bit of crosswind can take the balloon off course, dragging the capsule across the ground or smashing it into anything nearby, just as NASA learned first-hand a few years ago during this failed balloon launch in Australia.
September 27, 2012
From the department of “Is This Guy Totally Insane or Totally Badass or Both?” daredevil Felix Baumgartner is finally ready to attempt the world-record breaking skydive for which he’s been training and planning for many years. The Red Bull sponsored event is scheduled to take place Oct. 8th in New Mexico, weather permitting. Statistically early fall is the best time of year for balloon launches and other such experiments and atmospheric shenanigans. If successful, Baumgartner will become the first human to freefall faster than the speed of sound. He will also set the record for the highest skydive, jumping from an altitude of 120,000 feet. This is high enough that his capsule must be enclosed and pressurized, and his suit must be pressurized as well, all while being able to withstand the stresses of supersonic freefall. Just sit back and let that sink in for a while. The guy is jumping out of a balloon capsule at 120,000 feet and will freefall at roughly 700 mph or even faster.
On the surface the whole thing seems like a really expensive adrenaline rush, but it’s really much more. The technological advances required to build his dive suit, and the medical knowledge gained by the close monitoring if his body and vital signs during the freefall, all will contribute to future spacesuit designs and other areas of space exploration and human spaceflight. I’m really looking forward to October 8th, and hope the weather is good for them. (Via Discovery News)