What Have We Learned from Baumgartner’s Stratospheric Jump?

Felix Baumgartner
Felix Baumgartner‘ Record Jump


Although just a small step for Felix Baumgartner, the event has left a big footprint: On 14 October 2012 Baumgartner jumped from 128,100 feet [39,045 meters] altitude, using a special pressurized suit. Reaching a speed of 833 mph [1,342 kmh], he passed the sound barrier as first man in history during a fee fall. Nine minutes and three seconds later, the Austrian citizen Baumgartner landed safely in the New Mexico desert. Millions world-wide have watched his jump into the stratosphere live that has been praised the „moon landing of the young generation“.

What exactly is the stratosphere

The stratosphere is the second layer of Earth’s atmosphere. It is on top of the troposphere and extends from about twelve to 50 kilometres above our planet’s surface. In contrast to the other layers of the atmosphere, the temperature in the stratosphere increases with altitude. This ‚inverse‘ temperature gradient is caused by a significant amount of ozone in the stratosphere, which absorbs part of the incoming UV radiation from the Sun and converts it into heat. That’s why the stratosphere plays an important role in stabilizing our climate. And it is an indicator of climate change on our planet as well. Satellites measure these temperature fluctuations in the stratosphere with great precision and see long term variation in our climate.

Stratospheric research and technological development

Felix Baumgartner is not the first performing a stratospheric jump. Back in the 1950s and 60s, high altitude jumps were performed from the stratosphere for technology research purpose. During the Excelsior project in 1959/60 three manned jumps from 12-18 miles [20-30 kilometres] altitude have been performed for testing a new parachute system that was designed for emergency exits in high altitudes. 1962 the Soviet space pioneers Yevgeny Andreyev and Pyotr Dolgov tested the exit device of the Vostoc capsule with a new space suit during a stratospheric jump . Dolgov didn’t survive it.

What is the relevance of Baumgartner’s stratospheric jump?

Baumgartner’s lead sponsor Red Bull, a lemonade manufacturer from Austria, put the scientific benefits of the jump into focus. But this is probably no more than the attempt to ennoble a great spectacle with a portion of meaningfulness. Researchers question the relevance of the project: “ From a scientific point of view, this was rather unspectacular“, says the Austrian physicist Werner Gruber.

May be, but for Millions it will remain unforgettable. And Felix Baumgartner’s stratospheric jump might even have become another occasion to consider the climate and its changes . Even if it happens high above us in the stratosphere.

Felix Baumgartner
Felix Baumgartner in free fall towards the Earth

Fotos: Jay Nemeth/Red Bull Content Pool

16. Oktober 2013