Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Space Balls


Felix Baumgartner
So a man ballooned right up under the short skirts of space, jumped out, and plummeted back to the ground. If that sort of thing were easy, it would happen all the time. It would be raining bits of abusive-husband ash, lecherous-boss nuggets, and flaming assholes. But it's hard to do, especially if you're interested in returning the man in original condition. It takes plenty of courage, or some quality that stands in for courage. Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner just accomplished this feat, operating out of the Testicle Proving Ground in Roswell, New Mexico. He was wearing a miracle suit to protect him, a suit five years in the making, emblazoned with his sponsor's logo--Red Bull, the official energy drink of flaming assholes. He was encased in a space-age capsule tethered to a massive helium-filled balloon made of dry-cleaning bags, and on October 13th, 2012, he rose into the air, leaving his sobbing mother behind.

The risks were many. His goal was to reach the very top of the atmosphere at the edge of deep space, where all the blue runs out, a distance of about 24 miles. At 63,000 feet, the blood begins to boil. At 90,000 feet, the temperature is minus-90 degrees Fahrenheit, which is even colder than it would be in Centigrade, and that's without taking wind chill into account. Mr. Baumgartner stepped out of the capsule and shot back to earth. He probably lightened his load right off the bat, unless he took care of that before he left. And he succeeded in one of his goals, which was to surpass the speed of sound. His screams began arriving several minutes after he did. It's hard to imagine anyone having more guts than Felix.

But. It turns out that human blood does not actually boil at 63,000 feet, because if it did, the smaller bones in the skeleton would be al dente by 100,000 feet, and the human would stick to the ceiling of the atmosphere, but he doesn't. He comes right back down. The skin and muscles and other standard wrappings keep the lid on the pot, as it were, although the blood might fizz up a little. Still, it's hard to imagine a braver man than Felix.
Joe Kittinger

But. The other reason we know what happens to a guy's blood at 63,000 feet is that some other guy did this exact same thing fifty years ago, pre-Gatorade, let alone Red Bull, only he went up in a handbasket wearing tin foil and a snug hat. Joe Kittinger was one of the stout pioneers of the space program, and he was testing the proposition that someone who fell out of a spaceship, in those early days before the door latch was perfected, might be returned safely to ground. Joe was not fearless. He had claustrophobia, but apparently was okay with heights. These were the heady first days of discovery, and much was not known. They learned things bit by bit, using such means as setting astronauts on fire. In a test flight, Mr. Kittinger stepped out of the balloon, and the first parachute to unfurl--a stabilizer, designed to keep him from going into a spin, which is only fun for the first few seconds--promptly wrapped around his neck and rendered him unconscious.

On his ultimate flight, he noticed a bit of a rip in his glove on the way up, considered aborting, and then, in words straight out of the space-pioneer handbook, he bellowed "oh, well" into the waning atmosphere and continued up to an altitude of 107,800 feet. By this time his hand had swelled up to the proportions of a Macy's float and he had to complete his descent with one hand tucked into the opposite armpit.

But. His blood did not boil. He survived his death-defying leap, went on to fly 483 missions in Vietnam, was shot down, and was taken prisoner in Hanoi, where he told his captors that they didn't particularly scare him. And I'm thinking they didn't.

59 comments:

  1. This guy Baumgartner just wants to be the next Arnold Swartzenegger (or however in hell you spell it). You just wait. Hollywood is just around the corner. I'll bet he turns out to be a self-made Republican and marries a bulimic Democrat. He and Obama should make a nice couple.

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    1. Well you lost me at the end there. But he does have a Hollywood look to him.

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  2. Easier than marriage, I expect. Big boys being 'tough and manly'. Can't wait for the doll to come out ...

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    1. Can you imagine how easy it would be to play with a Felix Baumgartner action figure?

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    2. He'd knock Barbie's woossy little Ken into a cocked hat. Or a helium balloon.

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    3. And about time too. Ken? When I hear the name all I can think of is plastic man. Which makes it hard for me to take the two Ken's I have met seriously.

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    4. May I be the third Aussie to be mean about Ken? There was no way he could come up to GI Joe's abilities in the eyes of my kids so Ken lay forgotten on the verandah while Joe parachuted from the roof or was shanghai-ed out of a tree. My grand kids would love a Baumgartner action man.

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    5. You have to hope they don't try to see how high they can get before they drop him off.

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  3. Wonderful post. When you are not being Archbeachop Thomas Murr or Murrtha Stewart, you could do news commentary.

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    1. I think they have to get up early though.

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  4. Learn more about Joe by reading Packing for Mars by Mary Roach. Interesting guy.

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    1. Ooh, I want to be Mary Roach when I grow up! Yes he certainly is.

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  5. I remain baffled as to what exactly the point of such an action is. It was dangerous, yes. If he had died, what would he have died for?

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    1. Well, you know people who are of that mind believe they are living more fully than those of us who never test our limits. I had this very discussion with a fellow bicyclist who tears down mountains at 55 mph (I end up at the bottom of the mountain with sore arms from braking). They've got a point, but I DO test my limits. My limits are very small though. Public piano performance about does it.

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  6. I watched the whole thing live, being a skydiver myself. No interest in going up so high, but I was thrilled to be watching it. Kittinger was also around to watch it. Who knows why some people do such things? It was pretty exciting, though! :-)

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    1. I knew you'd be watching it! It was very exciting. How fast do you get going before the chute opens, do you know?

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  7. Joe Kittinger no doubt clangs as he walks - "Nerves of steel and balls of brass." I honor and respect the guy.

    As for Baumgartner, lots of people earned lots of money sending him up and following him down. So, if nothing else, his jump was good for the economy. Why would anyone do that? Adrenalin. It's a drug!

    I get all the adrenalin rush I need by fighting for choice bolts of fabric at JoAnne's clearance sales. Not necessarily a cheaper option (what with the assault charges and all) but considerably lower tech.

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    1. I hate adrenalin.

      But I wish I had what it takes to step out of an airplane. Or balloon. Like Djan up there. I'm one of those people who goes straight up in the air if someone pops a bag. The monkeys in the Wizard of Oz still scare me.

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  8. I dunno. I just don't see the point. Kittinger, yes. That was a brave contribution to research. Baumgartner, not so much.

    To me, "brave" is going into a burning building to rescue people, knowing you might not survive. Too bad Baumgartner chooses to waste his "bravery" on pointless stunts.

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    1. I don't know. I admire him. Both of them. Most people are braver than I am, when it comes right down to it. I wonder if they had a way of popping the balloon remotely if the occupant passed out and it kept going up.

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  9. I believe that the standard answer used to be "Because it's there" when people were asked why they climbed mountains. Now, it appears to more likely be: "because I have a sponsor." Stratospheric greed? Elaine M.

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    1. To be fair, it IS cheaper to climb a mountain.

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  10. Coincidentally perhaps,
    'Felix Baumgartner' is an anagram of 'Arrange Tumble Fix'
    which is why he got out of the spin ;-)

    And 'Joe Kittinger' is the 'Tiger Jet Ikon' :-)

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    1. I like the kind of fun you have. Do me. (Just the anagram, please.)

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    2. Truer Brew, Mrs?

      Rut Mrs? Web Err!

      Your choice ;-)

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  11. I am thinking it might be dangerous for those of us down below just in case we get hit by testicles the size of a small moon. Any smaller and no one would think to do such a stunt. There isn't enough Red Bull on the planet to convince most semi-sane people.

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    1. That was a vivid visual, Jono. Vivid. Off to scrub my brain off.

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  12. His blood did not boil! I seem to recall reading that people once refused to ride on trains because the human body would explode at 45 miles an hour.

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    1. I SAID that! However, the human body does explode at 45 miles an hour on a bicycle, given the right circumstances.

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  13. Boiling blood, flaming assholes, raining testicle parts. Why do I think this is only the domain of men? Are women just smarter or is honest fear the better part of common sense? Just wondering. Great post. You tickle my mind and my funny bone. Thanks.

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    1. In MY case, and I can only speak for myself, I like to think that my honest fear is the better part of common sense. As if I had a choice.

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  14. Women are too smart to do such foolhardy things. Men seem to always want to one up someone. I just do not get it. They do have bragging rights. Now if they had died, everyone would have said "what an idiot" instead of "what a brave man."

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    1. Or they might have said "them brave men, they burn a long time!"

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  15. Love it! Great job, put everything back in perspective and grounds me! Thanks

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  16. It seems to me that Baumgartner isn't much different than an astronaut, or Joe Kittinger, except in how he was financed. I would love to have the courage to do what any of them do, and I'm thankful for video that allows me to see what they see from the edge of the atmosphere, or beyond. What a magnificent way to get a better grasp on what the term "our world" really means.

    Thank you for telling us about Joe - and if I may ask, did you already know about his accomplishments, or how did you come across it?

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    1. Thanks for asking. I DID know about Joe. I read something about him years ago, Smithsonian or Discovery or something like that. Man takes a balloon up to the very edge of space and jumps out? In 1960?? I couldn't even believe it as I read it. I couldn't believe he wasn't more famous.

      That said, he got plenty of press this time around. He was, at age 84, in charge of communicating to Baumgartner in his capsule and on the way down. A very nice touch.

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  17. I don't claim to understand any of this, but the one big question that comes to mind is this-Did the sales of Red Bull increase as a result of this stunt?
    Because really, what else could be more important than that?

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    1. I think it's okay someone is paying the bill. I was wondering how it would have gone if the guy had flamed out in his Red Bull suit. Marketing-wise.

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  18. Funny you mentioned his crying mother: my only comment when I heard about his jump was "I'm glad I'm not his mother". I can't even go 3 steps up a ladder without feeling a yearning for earth and both feet on it. I would have been quite dead within 15' of leaving that balloon, with all the bathroom exit facilities in the suit completely clogged. No thanks. Although some parts of this aging bod have expired warranties and some have needed repairs, the survival instinct is in fine working order.

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    1. They actually showed his mother watching, and she lost it just as the balloon went up.

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  19. "-Red Bull, the official energy drink of flaming assholes." - BAhahahaha!


    And thank you for sharing the story of Joe Kittinger. I had NO IDEA.

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    1. He's got an autobiography out called "Come Up And Get Me."

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  20. Wow. Joe Kittinger was amaaaazing.

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  21. Made my first static line parachute jump at age seventy.

    A number of years ago a high altitude pilot ejected and his parachute got caught in an up draft. He went up instead of down, suffering extreme hypothermia and frost bite. I don't remember all the particulars, but it must be on the web someplace.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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  22. I remember that story too. I was going to look it up but forgot about it. He went up and down and over and out and was flying around in that storm for like a half hour. Incredible.

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    1. Actually it was an attractive lady flying a Gleitschirm (don't know the English word, it's one of those soaring mattress type parachutes). Said lady had been hang gliding world champion several years ago. She's in her 40s now, if I think of her name I'll post it here.

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  23. Mr. Mature, the Pighter Filot, was GLUED to the computer for the entire thing, which took most of the day. I checked in on him, asked a few questions about what was going on and said, "Red Bull? Really? Surprised it ain't Cialis."

    (Stand by for the side-effect profile.)

    This was genius, Murr. Thanks for writing what I think.

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    1. Well thank YOU for telling me where to go for ideas. What shall I write about? Hm, I wonder what Nance is thinking about?

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  24. I admire guts like that. The biggest fear I face these days is the fear that I might run out of chocolate.

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  25. Another "death defying" story about men to were "up in the air" but managed to defy death. Delightful.

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    1. Plus, it probably makes a person really appreciate gravity. I wonder how far up you have to go before you just, you know, stay up?

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  26. I thought it was awesome. I didn't care about the sponsorship, or whether money changed hands, or anything. It was just one of those times when a human being will do something just to see if it could be done. We're a curious bunch of apes, we are.

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    1. I thought it was too. I mean, what a view.

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  27. Men just love to do this strange crap, don't they? Thoroughly enjoyable, educational, and laugh out loud funny, my friend.

    And yeah. My guess is once you've done this, you're not likely to be scared of much.

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    1. Well, if I had done it, I would have been dead five seconds in, but IF I survived the trip, I would have spent the rest of my life quivering in the corner and occasionally being paired with peanut butter on a sandwich.

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  28. I'm on Team Joe. Are there teams? I'm making one. It's Team Joe.

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