Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.


Supersonic free fall tests spacesuit

16 October 2012, 16:03

Cape Canaveral - Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner's supersonic plunge to Earth from the stratosphere could help determine whether space tourists should wear spacesuits similar to the one that protected him as he shattered the sound barrier.

"This wasn't just a mild penetration of the sound barrier," Baumgartner's doctor, Jonathan Clark, said on Monday as the skydiver and his crew celebrated Sunday's record-breaking dive from about 39km up.

"It was Mach 1.24. Our ground recovery teams on four different locations heard the sonic boom," said Clark, a former high-altitude military parachutist and Nasa doctor who worked on escape systems for space shuttle astronauts.

Baumgartner jumped from an altitude of 39 044m over Roswell, New Mexico, reaching a peak speed of about 1 342.8km/h. The speed of sound at that altitude is about 1 110km/h.

His goal was to break records - highest sky dive, fastest free fall, biggest balloon to carry a person into the sky - but the feat was closely followed by doctors, engineers and scientists working to make spaceflight and high-altitude aircraft more survivable in accidents.

Space tourists

Clark knows the dangers firsthand. He lost his wife, astronaut Laurel Clark, when the damaged shuttle Columbia broke apart more than 61 173m above ground on 1 February 2003.

Before that, Clark served on a team that investigated the 1986 shuttle Challenger accident, another space disaster that claimed the lives of seven crew members.

Among those interested in data collected during Baumgartner's free fall are Nasa doctors and engineers, companies developing space taxis and the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees the fledgling commercial spaceflight industry and is deciding whether spacesuits should be mandatory for space tourists.

During his sky dive, Baumgartner wore a specially made suit similar to the orange pressurised flight suits that space shuttle astronauts began using after the Challenger disaster.

Until Baumgartner's jump, the suits had never been tested in supersonic flight or certified beyond 30 480m, the altitude that previous free-fall record holder Joe Kittinger reached in 1960.

"Felix demonstrated that you can penetrate the sound barrier," Clark said. "He didn't just go transonic, he went supersonic. Going Mach 1.24 is incredible. That is so much further beyond any limit of human endurance. It's just amazing."

"If you had a breakup of a spacecraft during launch and got lofted to 130 000 feet [39 624m] and got out, you could survive and go through the sound barrier. Maybe it wouldn't be pretty. You might be unstable, but eventually when you got lower you would have more control," Clark said.

Drogue chute

Future space travellers also could have an emergency drogue chute packed on their suits that would automatically deploy.

"In our case, we wanted to go fast, so to break the sound barrier we didn't want to use a drogue chute. But if you had a drogue chute, you would go slower, and you would be much more stable and less likely to go into a flat spin," Clark said.

Sealed inside his pressurized suit, Baumgartner did not feel himself going through the sound barrier, the skydiver told reporters after landing on Sunday.

"It was like swimming without touching the water. I was fighting all the way down to regain control," he said.

"I had a lot of pressure in my head, but I didn't feel like I was passing out. I felt like I could handle it."

Doctors were not sure what blasting through the sound barrier would do to the human body. In addition to going into an uncontrollable spin and possibly losing consciousness or worse, Baumgartner's supersonic body could have triggered dangerous shock waves that may have collided with the force of an explosion.

"I'd love to give a special one-finger salute to all those who said he was going to come apart when he went supersonic," quipped Kittinger, who served as an adviser on the project.

For the next six months or so, Clark and his colleagues will be analysing data from the dive.

"Just the physiologic monitoring system that Felix wore generated 50 million data points," Clark said. "We have a massive amount of data to go through."

- Reuters


Read News24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Read more from our Users

Nigeria @ 56: Words to my green f...

A leader’s job is not to dictate, but rather to be respected, admired and be a trustee, of the land we love, with so much potential, a land which should be freer than free. Its still a long way to fufilling our destiny! Read more...

Submitted by
Isaac Asabor263
Recession: An opportunity for Nig...

The recession should be seen as an opportunity for the country’s promotion as long as we all collectively conduct ourselves in a patriotic manner, writes Isaac Asabor.  Read more...

Submitted by
Black and White

We want to imitate the whites in everything because we are ignorant of our inherent originality and content. We spend all our Naira to acquire his inventions because we so oblivious of our natural endowments that we allow him have it for free. Read more...

Submitted by
Nate Nat
Adamawa State University Mubi: A ...

ADSU integrity forum has accused the Sunday Joshua Wugira, a lawyer, of adopting unorthodox tactics by abusing his privilege by attacking the integrity of ADSU Vice Chancellor Dr. Moses Zira Zaruwa, writes a News24 reader. Read more...

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
My Country Nigeria (Part One)

Poetry by Abdulsalam Jubril.

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
Recession, dearth in leadership a...

Every leader has the opportunity to become great and making himself immortal in the lives and hearts of people for generations to come. Will Mr. President seize this opportunity?, questions Abdulsalam Jubril. Read more...