Video: Fearless Felix jumps from edge of space

  1. Closed captioning of: Fearless Felix jumps from edge of space

    >>> suspenseful and awe-inspiring tv spectacle. one man's daredevil leap from a capsule from 22 miles above the earth. part marketing stunt or not. adventure felix baumgartner pushed the boundaries of human endurnance at almost 800 miles an hour. nbc's tom costello monitored the mission. he joins us from washington with more.

    >> the team says that felix baumgartner broke the record for the highest jump ever, the highest free fall and he broke the sound barrier at mach 1 .

    >> felix disconnect the oxygen hose.

    >> reporter: there he was at 128,000 feet, standing quite literally on the edge of space, preparing to do what no one had done before, with his mom watching from mission control , 43-year-old felix baumgartner offered a few words most most part to understood. then he was gone, beginning a terrifying supersonic dive from 24 miles up. a white dot as he quickly passed 700 miles an hour.

    >> speed 720 miles an hour.

    >> reporter: the scene began well before sun rise as they prepared felix. baumgartner is no novice he's made harrowing dumps before from 15 and 18 miles up. but today was about breaking a free fall record that has stood since 1960 . the former austrian military paratrooper faced instant death. he told jay leno that fear is healthy. this morning after a brief burst of wind, baumgartner 's balloon got the green light . and 2 1/2 hours later, he was standing where no man had stood before.

    >> and our guahe shot out like a bullet. exceeding the speed of sound , and then with a face mask fogging up, what looked like a terrifying out of control flat spin before he stabilized. finally 4 1/2 minutes later, baumgartner pulled his chute and floated to a landing in the new mexico desert.

    >> you're out there, you do not want to die in front of your parents, your girlfriend.

    >> reporter: it was ex extraordinary. nasa feels that there could be amount to be learned and the techniques that could be used on future nasa space missions .

    >> what happened to the capsule?

    >> it also came down via parachute in the new mexican desert and we're told it's

updated 10/18/2012 3:06:38 AM ET 2012-10-18T07:06:38

Now that the dust has settled in the New Mexico desert where supersonic skydiver "Fearless Felix" Baumgartner landed safely on his feet, researchers are exhilarated over the possibility his exploit could someday help save the lives of pilots and space travelers in a disaster.

Baumgartner's death-defying jump Sunday from a balloon 24 miles above Earth yielded a wealth of information about the punishing effects of extreme speed and altitude on the human body — insights that could inform the development of improved spacesuits, new training procedures and emergency medical treatment.

A NASA engineer who specializes in astronaut escape systems said Baumgartner's mission "gives us a good foundation" for improving the odds of survival for professional astronauts, space tourists and high-altitude pilots and passengers.

"What I would hope is that, perhaps, this is just the first step of many, many advancements to come" in emergency bailouts, said Dustin Gohmert, who heads NASA's crew survival engineering office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Decades of research
In an interview after Baumgartner became the first skydiver to break the speed of sound, Gohmert noted that researchers have spent decades working on self-contained space escape systems, with no significant advances since Joe Kittinger in 1960 jumped from 19.5 miles up and reached 614 mph — records that stood until Sunday.

Baumgartner's feat was sponsored by energy drink maker Red Bull, and NASA had no role. But Jonathan Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon who lost his wife, Laurel, in the space shuttle Columbia accident and dedicated himself to improving crew escape systems, was in charge of Baumgartner's medical team.

And he was thrilled at how much was learned.

By going well beyond Mach 1, or the speed of sound, Baumgartner provided even more data than anticipated. Wearing a pressurized suit and helmet, he accelerated to an astonishing 834 mph and was supersonic longer than expected. The speed of sound at that altitude is close to 700 mph.

"It was Mach 1.24, which is really huge. I mean, that's a much higher level than we'd ever anticipated, so we learned a lot by going faster and higher," said Clark, who teaches at the Baylor College School of Medicine.

Clark said his team is still analyzing all the medical data — heart rate, blood pressure and the like — collected from sensors on Baumgartner's body.

Coping with peril
During his descent through the stratosphere, Baumgartner went into an out-of-control spin for about 40 seconds, experiencing around 2.5 G's, or 2.5 times the force of gravity, before stabilizing himself.

Baumgartner's technique for righting himself may prove useful for companies like Virgin Galactic that are developing spacecraft that will take tourists up into space and right back down. These enterprises will need to have some sort of emergency escape plan.

NASA's next-generation spaceship, the Orion vehicle intended for deep-space exploration, will parachute home like the old-style Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules. The lessons learned from Baumgartner's effort probably won't apply directly to the Orion design, since it will be safer for astronauts to remain in the vessel all the way back to Earth, Gohmert said.

As for the now-ended shuttle program, Columbia was traveling too high and too fast during its 2003 descent for a Baumgartner-style exit to have helped the seven astronauts. The spaceship broke apart about 40 miles up while traveling more than Mach 17, unleashing forces that tore the crew members' bodies apart.

In the 1986 Challenger disaster, the crew capsule shot out of the fireball that erupted during liftoff, but there are too many unknowns to say whether any lessons from Baumgartner's feat might have applied to that tragedy, Gohmert said.

After each accident, NASA improved its efforts to protect crews in an emergency. But by the time the 30-year shuttle program shut down last year, the window for escape was still limited to below about 6 miles and less than 230 mph.

Redesigning spacesuits
Baumgartner's pressurized suit — a close cousin of the orange suits used by shuttle astronauts and the suits worn by high-altitude U-2 spy pilots — was designed for use in a standing, free-falling position, while conventional spacesuits are made primarily for sitting. By all accounts, the new suit performed well.

"I think all of us here in our lab specifically who have dealt with the shuttle suits have looked at this in wonder and amazement, and really appreciated what they did," Gohmert said. "And that efficiency that they brought it forth with is also a model for us to learn from as well."

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The suit was made by the David Clark Co. of Worcester, Mass.

"Perhaps in the future, someone might say, 'We want people to be in suits, some type of commercial space thing. We want them to be able to float around better and not in a seated position,'" Dan McCarter, a program manager at the company, said Wednesday.

"Now we know a little more on how to reposition arms and legs on the suit. Of course, we're always doing research and development. ... New knee joints, new elbow joints, lighter hardware. It's nonstop. We are currently working on the next-generation of suit right now for NASA and the Air Force."

The suit Baumgartner used was previously certified to 100,000 feet. "Well, we pretty much say now it's certified to 128,000 feet," McCarter said.

An uncorrected spin could have caused Baumgartner to black out and suffer a deadly stroke. Baumgartner said afterward that he could feel pressure building in his head during the spin, but did not come close to passing out.

His recovery crew had specialized equipment on hand to treat him for a multitude of medical problems he might have suffered. Clark and his team spent years refining the emergency treatments and the mobile gear required. In the end, none of it was needed.

"I tell you, we had a lot of medical support because we were very concerned," Clark said. "We had to be ready for everything."

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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