Felix Jumped – Thoughts on Leaping Into Space

There was a moment not long after Felix Baumgartner stepped away from the protection of his capsule at 128,000 feet

There was a moment not long after Felix Baumgartner stepped away from the protection of his capsule at 128,000 feet when his plummet was captured by infrared cameras and the screen was filled with black, Baumgartner appearing as a white, vaguely human shaped silhouette. Watching live, it very much reminded me of the falling man, that famous photo shot by Richard Drew of a Twin Towers office worker dropping headfirst to his death. Anonymous. Intensely vulnerable. Caught in larger forces.

Shortly thereafter, Baumgartner began to spin. At that altitude, there was little atmospheric friction to slow him down, and if momentum carried him into uncontrollable rotations, he could lose consciousness and die. Despite the theatrics surrounding the Red Bull Stratos, the marketing, the sheer commercial stuntery of it all, my heart started pounding. Was this within the range of normal rotation? Was Felix en route to tragedy? For a few seconds, while the announcer was silent, I could only speculate.

And then the spinning stopped. Baumgartner settled into the head-down delta position, legs slightly askew, and looked every bit in control of the situation – as controlled as you can be falling 23 miles to earth at more than 800 miles per hour. After four minutes or thereabouts, he popped his chute and then glided to a landing that could not have been more serene or gentle, and as he fell to his knees, I actually got a little teary.

Who cares if Red Bull bankrolled Baumgartner’s record-breaking leap? What does it matter if the company’s logo is plastered on the capsule, the suit, the parachute? At least he didn’t land on a giant bull painted into the New Mexico desert. The era of manifestly audacious government exploration is over, and warm-blooded people have been replaced by electronic probes and nuclear-fueled robots. It falls to privateers now, men with money and vision and courage, to go places we haven’t yet gone, like James Cameron descending to the bottom of the ocean. Red Bull certainly doesn’t need any more of my money, but I’m happy to raise a can in Felix’s honor. And even to Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz.

And anyway, when you look past all of the commercialism, past the technology, what you’re left with is a man, all alone, fragile, breakable, and mortal. And that’s where the real power of the Stratos jump lies. Because Felix’s jump is the kid hucking off the roof with a towel tied around his neck for a superhero cape. It’s the dude daring himself off the highest cliff in a water-filled quarry. It’s every person who ever jumped or leaped or stepped off into the great unknown, with hope and faith and trust and a little bit of prayer, too.

I don’t know what Baumgartner was feeling as he kneeled on the ground, hands resting on his knees, but it looked to me like stunned relief. Rather than a conquering hero, Felix looked like a man who was humbled by what he’d done and by the grace of a successful, and perhaps lucky, gamble. It seemed to me to be more honest and poignant than anything words could say.


Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal. Follow him on Instagram at @stevecasimiro.
Showing 6 comments
  • lynn marie rauh

    steve well done i wondered the same thing about the what appeared to be out of control spinning, at that monment – was he going to make it? then you were absolutely right we knew (or thought we knew) when he got control in what is known as a familair pose- he had made it (did you see the relief on his mother’s face?) I think he was surely humbled sitting on his knees.

  • Lou Dzierzak

    Apprehensive watching him. Still recall the images of Challenger explosion. While interested in his feat, watching it live was tempered with the realization that I could be watching a man jump to his death.

  • mims

    I wished I could have heard what he said before jumping. But found online he said,”I wish the world could see what I could see, sometimes you have to go really high to see how small you are. I am going home now”

    I also wonder if he knew he was 16 seconds short of breaking the record for freefall..was it an automatic chute deployment, or was he acting as a good sport and allowing one of Kittengers records to stand? If the later, then what a fine human being he is. Or perhaps it was all just chance, I mean how premediated and in control can you be giong faster than the speed of sound?!

  • Rob Sylvan

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I got chills again reading you account and couldn’t agree more. Only thing I would add is the magnitude of what a globally shared event this was and how incredible an achievement it was for millions of people to watch a live event unfold 23 miles above the earth’s surface all the way back down to the ground.

  • David D

    Well-said Steve! I remember reading a piece in the NYT describing Felix as a daredevil. Would you describe an astronaut or a pilot like that? In this new era of private exploration inspiration is sometimes left to the intentions of profit seeking institutions. And I thought RedBull and Company did an excellent job sharing Felix’s jump. It was cool, geeky, scientific, commercial and I agree with you; honest. I remember the balloon stretched out to a prefect globe in contrast with all the images of funny looking weather balloons that showed how freaking high Baumgartner was. (A photography feat in it’s own right). Then there was the live moment the capsule door opened. How about that? Technology can be so cool when it is combined with an awesome team, history, radical vision and, of course, money. Thank goodness for those who want to share this kind of earth “entering” inspiration.

  • Cody

    I could not agree more about the jump and about the commercialization. Red Bull sponsors plenty of (very) cool but otherwise non-important events. But this. This was the first time I’ve witnessed a ridiculously successful company using their funds to further the knowledge and inspiration of humanity on a global scale. As you said, yes it was a giant ad as well. But Red Bull didn’t do this for the ad. There are plenty of other ways to capture attention and place a logo. They did this for all of us. After the banking debacle, this renews my pride for (and faith in) capitalism. It was a beautiful day for sport, art, science, and commerce. A rare thing indeed.

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