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If think the Star Trek reboot was far out, wait ’til you read this: Pro skydiver Felix Baumgartner is preparing for an atmospheric jump similar to the one undertaken by Kirk and Sulu in the recent movie. In the spirit of the franchise and action-packed prequel, the real-life adventurer will “boldly go where no man has gone before” as he jumps from the edge of space into a supersonic freefall towards Earth.
At a press briefing on Friday, Baumgartner and a team of scientists and specialists officially announced the Red Bull Stratos mission to surpass the record-breaking jump made by United States Air Force Captain Joseph Kittinger in 1960. (Watch exciting newsreel coverage of his jump here). Kittinger’s success laid the groundwork for the space program fifty years ago, and now he wants to help Baumgartner pick up where he left off — you could say it’s a space exploration reboot. (Watch the trailer here). If successful, the Austrian athlete will be the first human to break the speed of sound in freefall, attaining Mach 1.0 (about 690 mph).
Despite three years of planning and the advantage of not having to land on a small drilling platform while fighting Romulans, the jump will be a lot harder to achieve in reality than it was for J.J. Abrams. (“That was me and Chris on wires in the tight suits and hanging up in the air at Paramount Studios,” explains John Cho, the actor who played Sulu.) Plus, unlike Kirk, Baumgartner won’t have a friend along to help him if something goes wrong.
In lieu of a Starfleet shuttle, Baumgartner will use a stratospheric balloon to rise to more than 120,000 feet — nearly 23 miles away from Earth — a record in itself for the highest manned balloon flight. Once he steps into the air (wearing a flexible, pressurized spacesuit not unlike the ones Kirk and Sulu wear on their jump) he’ll exceed the speed of sound in about 35 seconds but will not pull his chute for another five minutes, creating the longest and fastest freefall ever achieved. This real-life drama has everything you want from a space story including a great leading man: You might recall Baumgartner’s entertaining work as the Birdman crossing the English channel in 2003.
The project’s technical director, Art Thompson, admits they are concerned about the shock wave he’ll face when reaching supersonic speeds. “In early aircraft development, they thought it was a wall they couldn’t pass without breaking apart,” he said at the briefing. “In our case, the vehicle is flesh and blood, and he’ll be exposed to some extreme forces.” There’s also the matter of atmosphere pressure at altitude. Unprotected, the test pilot’s blood would boil, leading to a rather gruesome death. But Baumgartner’s spacesuit should take care of all of that (just as long as it’s not red).
The jump is due to take place above North America this summer. A Vulcan might describe the undertaking as reckless but, if it works, it will be as awesome as the Final Frontier.Read More