If on Sunday 14th October you were wrestling a polar bear or sketching the Jabberwocky and your name was Felix, bad luck. You were not the most interesting Felix. That accolade, along with all the others he got that day, went to Felix Baumgartner.
While all other Felix’s (and everyone else) was either going about their lives or watching him, Felix Baumgartner floated up to the edge of space before jumping back down to earth.
The challenge was always to break the sound barrier but standing on the edge of his platform Baumgartner said all he could think about was getting back down to earth (alive), and who can blame him.
Baumgartner did break the sound barrier, reaching a maximum velocity of 833.9mph. He also broke the records for highest manned balloon flight and the highest free-fall, beating the records set by his mentor Joe Kittinger. Of course Baumgartner’s jump was brave, but I would be much happier to jump from the edge of space in 2012 than in 1960, which is when Joe Kittinger made his jump.
When Kittinger was jumping out of his open capsule The Beatles were yet to have a single and due to his malfunctioning suit his right hand looked like a baseball glove. He would definitely be the person I’d chose to talk me through a jump.
Baumgartner’s jump wasn’t all about going very fast and increasing Red Bull’s market share, it had real world applications (at least it did for real world astronauts). Like Kittinger’s jumps in the 1960s, Baumgartner’s jump was testing the latest in high altitude survival equipment. One of the team was the husband of astronaut Laurel Clark who died when the Columbia space shuttle broke-up during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Despite these scientific elements, it was in large parts a stunt. A great stunt, but a stunt.
A man who went close to space in a capsule funded by a caffeinated drinks company is surely the best logo for our corporate times. What’s worse? Energy drink funding or military funding? Both are bad for health. Either way our generation can feel a little aggrieved, the baby-boomers and their children had a state funded moon landing, we get a man going to nearly space. Felix Baumgartner did something magnificent that is not in doubt.
As he stood on the edge of his platform he spoke of the same humbling feeling, the same realisation of how small we are that the great astronauts spoke of. But shouldn’t this be done by NASA and not a drinks company? The secrets of science should be for the benefit of all.
NASA no longer has a shuttle program, that has been privatised. Exploration is now a money game and space the rich person’s space (sorry). Don’t panic though. If you want to see the edge of space or depths of the sea all is not lost. Find yourself a large corporate sponsor (preferably a confectionery company) and away you go. I for one can’t wait for a deep sea dive sponsored by Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles.
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