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120,000-foot free fall to put spacesuit to test

Image of Felix Baumgartner
Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria is pictured on his way to the capsule during the first manned test flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico on March 15, 2012.Jorg Mitter / Red Bull Content Pool

Later this year, Austrian pilot Felix Baumgartner will jump from a helium-filled capsule lifted 120,000 feet into the air. If he survives the Red Bull sponsored stunt – and he fully intends to – his spacesuit will deserve a chunk of the credit.

Among other things, the outer layer of the 28-pound, four-layered pressurized suit is made of a fire-retardant and insulating material called Nomex that will help fight off the chill of the minus 5 F temperature when he jumps and likely minus 70 F during the fall.

“Once pressurized, the suit will become rigid. Its vertical orientation will help Baumgartner maintain delta position (head down, feet up) throughout his free fall – crucial if he is to avoid a flat spin,” Popular Science explained today in post about the Mach 1 Suit’s technology.

Other details on the suit, which was designed by engineers at the David Clark Co. who build these things for NASA and the Department of Defense, include a chest pack full of gadgets such as GPS beacons and HD cameras to record and report speed, position and altitude to mission control.

Of course, the suit alone is unlikely to prevent tragedy should Baumgartner’s parachute fail to open, which is one of the reasons why he has not one, but a main chute, an emergency chute, and a stabilizing drogue.

In addition to setting a record for the longest-ever free fall, the feat should provide “valuable medical and scientific research data for future pioneers,” Red Bull explains on the Stratos mission webpage. Check it out for more details.

--Via Popular Science

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