Over 24 miles, at 128,100 feet; a little over 420 football fields stacked on top of each other is what it took to reach the altitude at which Felix Baumgartner free-fell from the stratosphere, breaking the speed of sound at 833.9 miles per hour.
Dr. Marle Hewett, mission director of the Red Bull Stratos Mission, recounted Baumgartner’s record-breaking journey to South Dakota State students April 13.
“I’m going to tell you a story. It’s an adventure story and it has all the good ingredients of an adventure story,” Hewett said at the beginning of his talk. “It’s got passion. It’s got commitment. It’s got some pretty interesting engineering and science…and it’s all sponsored by this crazy, energy drink company. … Fasten your seat belts.”
Throughout the night, Hewett recounted the elements of the mission that allowed Baumgartner to become the first person in history to skydive faster than the speed of sound. He described the team working on the project, Baumgartner’s custom-made suit, the capsule that lifted Baumgartner to the stratosphere and all the trials and tribulations that came with it.
“The biggest struggle was getting Felix up to speed on everything,” Hewett said. “We spent a year going through all kinds of training and actually teaching him.”
Training and education were vital to help Baumgartner develop the confidence needed to fulfill this mission. People with a solid education were telling him about the catastrophes that would happen when he took the leap 128,100 feet above the ground.
“We had people [telling] him all kinds of things … Felix had an F16 pilot telling him that the shock waves were going to tear him up … that was not true,” Hewett said. “We had to tell him what we believed, and we knew that we were right.”
In addition to the struggles with Baumgartner, the Red Bull Stratos Mission team also encountered a nine month road bump.
“We were hit with a $600 million lawsuit … Dan Hogan thought we were stealing his ideas,” Hewett said. “We settled it, and came out fine.”
Even with all the obstacles Hewett’s team faced, the Red Bull Stratos Mission commenced. It took seven years of planning and preparation, but on October 14, 2012, Baumgartner stepped out of his capsule and started his descent back to Earth.“There was one [problem] that we didn’t know how to handle. … When [Felix] jumped, he got into a spin. We was spinning at about 125 miles per hour,” Hewett said. Baumgartner eventually got himself out of the spin and landed safely on the ground.“So what was this project all about? Was it the records we were after?” Hewett asked the SDSU audience. “I would propose it was a human story. It was a triumph of the human spirit.”
Sophomore Andrew Puetz said he identifies with Hewett’s view on the mission. As a mechanical engineering major, he found himself especially inspired by Hewett’s story.
“Red Bull probably did it for the publicity, but [they also did it] for the creativity of humanity and adventure,” Puetz said. “I think the phrase [“triumph of the human spirit”] definitely captures that.”