The Austrian daredevil talks about his most incredible mission yet, the Red Bull Stratos project
Austrian extreme sportsman Felix Baumgartner has completed numerous spectacular BASE jumps from iconic locations such as the Christ statue in Rio, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the towering Taipei 101 skyscraper. He is also the first human being ever to cross the English Channel in freefall using a carbon wing. On October 8, 2012, the 43-year-old will embark on his most daring adventure yet, Red Bull Stratos.
Why did you want to pursue this mission?
Felix Baumgartner: I love a challenge, and trying to become the first person to break the speed of sound in freefall is a challenge like no other. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what motivates us. Red Bull Stratos is an opportunity to gather information that could contribute to the development of life-saving measures for astronauts and pilots – and maybe for the space tourists of tomorrow.
Does this jump push the limits of the human body?
Baumgartner: One of the unknowns is how a human body will react approaching supersonic speeds. The effects of the transition to supersonic velocity and back again are not known. This is just one of the things we hope to learn. Maybe one day it will be possible to bring astronauts home safely from space if their spacecraft malfunctions. It sounds like a sci-fi scenario, but aeronautics is definitely moving in that direction.
So as the jump approaches, do you have any apprehensions about this step into the unknown?
Baumgartner: Of course; however, having been involved in extreme endeavours for so long I’ve learned to use my fear to my advantage. Fear has become a friend of mine. It’s what prevents me from stepping too far over the line. On a mission like this, you need to be mentally fit and have total control over what you do, and I’m preparing very thoroughly. I’ve also got an incredible team around me, and I know they wouldn’t be part of this mission unless they thought it could succeed.
Your heart rate will be highest not in the moments directly before you jump, but when you get up from your seat.
Baumgartner: I have developed a detailed technical procedure that I need to go through before the jump – 40 individual steps which must be carried out in a certain order. That is the moment when you realise that you are completely dependent on technology – in a place where there really is nobody around to help you. Directly before the jump my heart rate will drop, because that is the time when I am in control of most things going on.
What is the most important thing when it comes to the jump itself?
Baumgartner: I have to get myself into a stable position before I reach the speed of sound. With all my experience in the air that shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but in order to stabilise my body I need wind resistance. The problem is that for around 30 seconds I will have no air cushion whatsoever, meaning that I won’t be able to control the way my body spins. However, in the tests we have done so far I have always been able to stabilise myself pretty quickly as soon as there was enough air to do so.