There’s a lot of science and technology involved in sending a man into the stratosphere in a balloon and letting him fall safely to Earth. This interview with Stratos technical project director Art Thomson reveals the challenges that the team faced - such as getting circuit breakers to work at high altitude and stopping the wind from cutting Baumgartner’s parachute to pieces. You should also check out this list of groundbreaking tech needed to carry out the mission.
By completing his jump, Felix Baumgartner broke a stack of records set by US command pilot Joseph Kittinger, who made the first leap 19.5 miles above the Earth’s surface in 1960. Watching this newsreel, it’s crazy to think that Kittinger only had a fraction of the tech used in the Stratos project, but still somehow made it to the ground unscathed.
For every successful project like Stratos, there are thousands of unknown technology breakthroughs that languish in university labs and archives. A new organisation in the U.S is aiming to change this by digging out old government-funded research projects that didn’t make the cut the first time round. Hailed as the Antiques Roadshow for the sciences, the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps is looking for projects with modern-day commercial potential.
The Red-Bull-sponsored Stratos project reminds us of another privately run initiative that’s promoting bold steps - the X Prize. From the spacecraft competition that set the groundwork for Virgin Galactic’s imminent commercial space flights through to the current rewards on offer for creating cancer drugs and lunar visits, the X prize is shouldering in where only governments used to tread.
While Virgin is gearing up to send tourists into space in its X-Prize-winning craft, spare a thought for the NASA technology that’s only just been retired from orbit. This stunning time-lapse video shows the final journey of the shuttle Endeavour as it heads to its resting place in Los Angeles - a poignant reminder of how yesterday’s tech makes way for today’s.