Felix Baumgartner was surprised and disappointed that his attempt to become the first person to break the sound barrier in freefall had to be scrapped due to gusts of wind near the top of his 30 million cubic foot balloon. Weather permitting, the Austrian will likely get another chance to write history while breaking four world records with his jump from the edge of space on Sunday.
Felix Baumgartner had just climbed into his space capsule and was only moments away from lifting off on his journey to the edge of space when a strong 22-knot gust of wind near the top of the 750-foot high helium-filled balloon forced the Red Bull Stratos team to abort Tuesday’s attempt to make the world’s highest skydive from 120,000 feet. Even though there was hardly any wind at ground level when the Austrian adventurer strapped himself into the capsule, the gusts of wind at the top of the 30 million cubic foot/ 834,497 cubic meter balloon made it impossible to continue.
“As we inflated the balloon and got Felix into the capsule at about 11:42 a.m., we experienced a gust of wind that took us above 22 knots at the peak of the balloon,” said Red Bull Stratos Project Director Art Thompson, adding the gust had dangerously twisted the balloon in a way that could have damaged the delicate polyethylene material. “The integrity of the balloon at that point is really unknown and unacceptable to use for manned flight because we were not sure what would happen as we launch. Our biggest problem was the wind at the 750-foot level.” Wind speeds cannot exceed 3 mph (5km/h) or there is a chance the envelope could tear when the support team tries to release it. “We knew that we only had a small window today which we finally did not hit” added Thompson.
Baumgartner has been training for five years for the mission that will also help to improve our scientific understanding of the stratosphere and how the body copes with the extreme conditions at the edge of space. The 43-year-old extreme athlete said he was surprised by the decision to abort the flight on Tuesday but optimistic he will still get his chance to break the 52-year-old record set by U.S. Air Force Colonel Joe Kittinger, who is working as an adviser for the project and has become Baumgartner’s protege in the process.
“When Art told me we were aborting the mission I thought it was a joke,” said Baumgartner. “I thought there is no way, that the conditions were notright. I couldn’t tell what was happening with the balloon because I was in the capsule. I want this to happen this year. We’ve made it so far. There’s no turning back. We’re here, we’ve got the helium and we’re good to go. Whether that’s tomorrow or the first day next week, I don’t really care.”
At a press conference Red Bull Stratos meteorologist Don Day presented a new weather forecast on Wednesday morning. It appears that the next weather window for Baumgartner’s attempt will open on Sunday.
Joe Kittinger remembered his record attempt: “It was like it is with Felix right now. The pressure was the same and I had to be patient. Once I had to wait 30 days and never could launch“.