How to fall from 120,000 feet

To safely fall from 23 miles in the air, you need a very special suit.
Written by Rose Eveleth, Contributing Editor

Do you ever wish you could fall from 120,000 feet safely? No? Huh, you must not be Felix Baumgartner.

Baumgartner is planning on falling from 120,000 feet in the air. That's 23 miles up. To put that into context, a typical sky diving jump is somewhere between 3,000 and 13,000 feet. It would be the longest fall in history, and he'll be falling through air that could be -70ºF at around 700 miles an hour.

So, obviously, Baumgartner isn't heading up there in his swim trunks. In fact, he's got a special suit designed just for him by the same engineers who build NASA's pressure suits, to help him withstand the fall. PopSci broke down the futuristic space digs into six parts (along with some cool pictures).

The suit itself will pressurize and become rigid, helping him maintain the right position while he falls (called "delta position"). When he hits 35,000 feet (still way higher than any standard skydiving) the suit will soften, so he can move again. Since he's falling from so high up, the suit also pumps oxygen to Baumgartner, and keeps an internal pressure of 3.5psi.

The suit will also keep track of how fast Baumgartner is falling and what the G-forces are on him. If things go wrong, he could lose consciousness. If the G-force meter sensors unsafe conditions it will deploy a parachute that will stabilize his spinning.

Speaking of parachutes, Baumgartner's got a bunch. Three, in fact. The stabilizing one we just mentioned, the main chute, and a backup in case the main one fails. That main parachute have nine cells, which is standard for him, but this time they're two and a half times bigger.

And, for those of you who want to live vicariously through Baumgartner, the suit includes a voice transmitter, a high-def video camera, and an accelerometer. It will be like you're there, except without the freezing cold and the insane amounts of danger.

Baumgartner has jumped from crazy heights before. In March he jumped from a balloon capsule from 71,500 feet above New Mexico. If he manages to jump from 120,000 feet, he'll break the world record set by Joe Kittinger, a US Air Force Colonel in 1960.

Via: Popular Science

Image: Dr. Michel Royon

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards