Adrenaline junkie plans extreme leap -- from space

Felix_Baumgartner
You've heard of skydiving, right? How about space-diving?

Felix Baumgartner is an Austrian skydiver, BASE jumper and adrenaline junkie who hopes to set the record this summer for the highest skydive ever.

If all goes well, Baumgartner will use a pressurized capsule attached to a high-altitude helium balloon for a "stratospheric flight" to more than 120,000 feet. "He will then exit the capsule and jump -- protected only by a pressurized 'space' suit and helmet supplied with oxygen -- in an attempt to become the first person to break the speed of sound and reach supersonic speeds in free-fall before parachuting to the ground," according to jump plans.

The only thing not surprising about this endeavor? Extreme sports elixir Red Bull is sponsoring the whole thing.

The jump is slated for later this summer, above Roswell, N.M. Given the complexities of the effort, no exact date is scheduled. Experts will start by looking for a perfect three-day weather window -- clear skies, perfect temperatures, no winds -- and then choose a jump time.

Clear skies are a must, spokeswoman Trish Medalen told The Times, explaining that Baumgartner will need all the visibility he can get to reorient himself on the way down.

Followers of Baumgartner's career know he has a passion for doing the unthinkable. (He flew across the English channel in 2003 using a carbon wing, hitting 220 miles per hour. You can watch that jaw-dropping video here.)

The upcoming mission, called Red Bull Stratos, is being documented online. The mission is also being chronicled by both the BBC and the National Geographic Channel for a feature-length TV film. The project has been underway for quite some time, but has been gaining momentum in recent days with its formal announcement.

If successful -- and really, what could go wrong? -- the jump aims to set several world records. Baumgartner hopes to become the first person to break the speed of sound and achieve Mach 1 in free-fall, estimated at 690 mph; to set the record for a free-fall from highest altitude (120,000 feet); to set the record for longest free-fall time (five minutes 35 seconds or more) and to set the record for highest manned balloon flight.

The Red Bull Stratos team includes international experts in medicine, science, engineering, aviation, and design, as well as a former NASA crew surgeon. But there are two centerpieces.

One is ice-water-in-his-veins Baumgartner. The other is a man who is little-known to the masses, but is a legend in the aviation community: Joe Kittinger.

Kittinger, who might be the reason the word "daredevil" was invented, holds a variety of aviation records, including longest, highest and fastest skydive, from about 19 miles up. A fighter pilot in Vietnam, he was shot down and spent nearly a year in the notorious "Hanoi Hilton"; he was later inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Kittinger's experience is crucial to the success of the jump, folks associated with the effort say, and he's helping to train Baumgartner every step of the way. He is also slated to be the primary point of contact with Baumgartner during his ascent.

The jump's mission statement takes great pains to point out the jump's contributions to the scientific community, including aiding in the development of protocols for exposure to high altitude and high acceleration.

Of all that and more, we have no doubt. But the real reason we're interested and why all the world's eyes will be trained on Baumgartner's planned jump? It's just stinkin' cool.

ALSO:

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Super Bowl 2012 fallout: Does M.I.A. owe Madonna and Kelly Clarkson an apology?

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Felix Baumgartner trying out his space suit, specially designed for the jump. Credit: Christian Pondella / Red Bull Content Pool


Clint Eastwood: Super Bowl ad aimed at Americans, not politicians

Unless you were taking a Super Bowl beer break at the time, you saw the ad -- the only Super Bowl ad, it seems that mattered: Gravely voiced, squinty-eyed Clint Eastwood giving Americans the pep talk of their lives. Since then, politicians on both sides of the aisle have been howling or crowing about subliminal political messages they believe to be embedded in the Chrysler ad and what they might mean for the November election.

Well, Eastwood himself is now weighing in, telling both sides to give it a rest. There was "no spin" or selling intended in that ad, no politics, no subliminal message, no endorsements. It was simply meant to inspire Americans to do what they do best -- get back in the game, no excuses, just get back in the game.

"This country can't be knocked out with one punch," Eastwood says in the ad. "We get right back up again and, when we do, the world is gonna hear the roar of our engines. Yeah, it's halftime America, and the second half is about to begin."

Eastwood, a well-known Republican, Fox TV watcher and acquaintance of Bill O'Reilly, issued an exclusive statement to Fox's "O’Reilly Factor" producer Ron Mitchell. Here is the statement:

"I just want to say that the spin stops with you guys, and there is no spin in that ad. On this I am certain. I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama. It was meant to be a message just about job growth and the spirit of America. I think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK. I am not supporting any politician at this time. Chrysler to their credit didn’t even have cars in the ad. Anything they gave me for it went for charity. If any Obama or any other politician wants to run with the spirit of that ad, go for it."

Now, far be it from us to argue with Dirty Harry. We'll take him at his word, especially since he seems to be inviting both sides to invoke the ad if it suits their political needs -- that's about as bipartisan as you can get in an election year.

Still, it's fascinating to see how both sides are parsing the imagery, the timing, the sponsor and, of course, Eastwood's language for hints of partisanship or even whether this is a big "Thank You" ad from Chrysler to American people, and, of course, President Obama, for the tax-funded bailout.

If you were indeed taking a beer break during the Super Bowl and missed the ad, watch it for yourself, above. And then watch the O'Reilly's segment, below, which includes interesting takes on why both sides are eager to dissect the ad's subliminal symbolism.

ALSO:

Super Bowl 2012: Eastwood ad sparks discord

Super Bowl 2012 ads: Too much hype, not enough pop

Super Bowl 2012 fallout: Does M.I.A. owe Madonna and Kelly Clarkson an apology?

-- Rene Lynch


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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