Felix Baumgartner: 'Girls Love Heroes'

Felix Baumgartner one year on from his momentous Red Bull space jump

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Felix Baumgartner, 44, is an Austrian Base jumper, skydiver and helicopter pilot.

On 14 October, 2012, he successfully completed the Red Bull Stratos project – jumping from a helium balloon and falling 39 kilometres to the surface of the Earth below.

In the process, he set the record for the highest altitude for a manned balloon flight and became the first person to travel faster than the speed of sound outside an aircraft.

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Have you been surprised by the world’s reaction to your jump?
I always knew that this was going to be big – the first human breaking the speed of sound outside of an aircraft. But when you’re talking and there are 10 cameras in front of you, you don’t really realise they reach the whole world. People planned it like watching a Champions League match or something. The biggest compliment that I’ve had was that to the young generation, this was our Moon landing.

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Has it brought you much female attention?
Oh yeah. Every time I’m going to do autograph signings and stuff, it’s probably 80 per cent women. Girls love heroes. And also I have to say: uniforms. It doesn’t matter if you’re a cop or a military person or an astronaut, uniforms always work. And there’s not so many people out there who are allowed to wear an astronaut uniform. As soon as you have that chance, you will look sexy.

You wore a pressurised suit for the jump. Didn’t you have some problems with it?
The suit is very unnatural. It’s so silent and it takes a lot of effort breathing. And I had to prove I could spend six hours in it at a time – that’s a whole working day. It started to freak me out. Everybody thought about supersonic speed and how audacious it is – nobody ever thought about that spending six hours in the suit on the ground would be the biggest obstacle that I’d have to overcome.

You had help from Joe Kittinger, who set the longest skydive record in 1960. How did he feel about you breaking it?
He was a true pioneer, my childhood hero, and on this project he was like a father to me. He was at an age when he felt it was time to pass his knowledge on. He knew: “For 50 years, no one was able to beat my record. And now they still need me to break my record.”

What do you see when you’re 39km up?
You can see landmarks, the curve of the Earth, the sky above is completely black. It’s breathtaking, but it’s also a very hostile environment. I had a really big checklist that I had to follow, so I didn’t get much time to absorb it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and you know you will never come back to that place, but you have to concentrate on doing everything in the right sequence otherwise you might die.

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What does it feel like when you’re travelling at more than 1,000kph an hour?
The thing is, you don’t really feel it. You have no indication, no reference points, nothing is passing you. Your suit is not flapping because it is pressurised. There is almost no noise up there. I had been told a lot of stories about when you break the sound barrier, like there is a shockwave – there’s a supersonic boom, of course, but it happens way behind you. Nobody who breaks the speed of sound hears it, but they heard it on the ground — ba-boom. When I landed, it was such a great moment because I was back on Mother Earth. But I didn’t know if I had broken the speed of sound. At the press conference, I still didn’t know. But then Brian Utley, the Guinness World Record verification guy, came out of his office and gave me a “yes you did” look. That was for me the biggest value of the whole project.

Early on in the jump, it looked like you were tumbling…
That’s what we call flat spinning. You rotate really fast and you all your blood goes into your head. The danger is if it is rapid onset, there’s so much pressure that there’s only one way for the blood to leave your body – through the eyeballs. It’s critical to maintain control in the 30 seconds because there is no air, it’s a vacuum. You can’t use your skydiving skills in the first 30 seconds because there is no air.

Do you think that someone will one day beat your jump?
I will never say it’s not possible; what we thought of as impossible years ago is sometimes standard now. But if you want to go any higher, say 100km [the official start of space], you have to use a rocket – balloon, no way. To turn and then exit a rocket would take a lot of technique. Now here’s problem number three: at that altitude, there is no friction at all so you will fall at three or four times faster than the speed of sound. I think it’s impossible to handle it as a human. It would require a high-speed stabilisation programme and if you had that device it means it is not a world record anymore. If you want to break my record, you have to go faster, you have to do it without the stabilisation programme and that requires a lot of technique. There’s always someone out there who is going to kick your ass, but I don’t think it’s going to be soon. We set the benchmark really high. And remember, the second Moon landing was not even shown live on TV. People were like, yeah, we’ve seen this already, whatever.

What’s happened since the jump?
Travelling. I’ve been doing so many speeches around the planet and receiving a lot of awards. I won the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Award in Washington DC a couple of months ago and I met James Cameron. He was at the Mariana Trench last year, 10,000m under the ocean. I had a really interesting conversation with this guy.

Did he inspire you to try out diving?
No, no, no. When he talks about all this, I’m sitting there thinking: “Damn, how can he go down 10,000m in his little submarine boat?” It’s scary. I don’t really like water – I’m a bird not a fish.


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