Red Bull Stratos a win for Joe Kittinger

The UF alumnus helps his own records fall for medical and scientific advancement. 
Joe Kittinger gives a speech

Joe Kittinger gives a speech before the Red Bull Stratos Mission Jump. Photo by Jörg-Mitter/Red Bull Content Pool.

In August 1960, Joe Kittinger (’46-’48) carried The Gator Nation 102,800 feet into the Earth’s atmosphere and back, claiming the record for the highest parachute fall in the process.

Today, however, one man toppled Kittinger’s record in Roswell, N.M.

Through Red Bull’s Stratos project, Felix Baumgartner surpassed Kittinger’s record by riding a balloon more than 120,000 feet into the atmosphere and jumping — but not without Kittinger’s assistance.

Red Bull Stratos added Kittinger to the project’s team in 2008 for his experience with high-altitude jumps and operations. For today’s mission, the white-haired Kittinger was visible in headphones as he acted as the main radio contact between Baumgartner’s capsule and mission control.

Felix Baumgartner prepares for the final manned flight

Felix Baumgartner prepares for the final manned flight of Red Bull Stratos. Photo by Bull Content Pool.

Beginning in 2005, the project aimed to follow in Kittinger’s footsteps from his historical mission to test the boundaries of the human body. While breaking the record for the highest parachute jump is something to write home about, the Red Bull team says the mission is about so much more. It’s about leaping into the unknown and watching what happens — literally.

Like Kittinger’s flight, today’s mission focused on making advancements in high-altitude technologies, looking into the possibility of the human body surviving the speed of sound and assessing what type of pressure suits would be necessary to protect humans at that kind of altitude.

Baumgartner, the 43-year-old Austrian native behind today’s jump, embraced heights at an early age. He began his skydiving career at age 16 and progressed to BASE jumping during the 1990s.

He says the chance to provide brand new research and information to the world through jumping drove him to partner with Red Bull Stratos.

Breaking records in the process of gaining that information, however, isn’t something to complain about. Through the course of the mission, Baumgartner broke four records: The speed record for free-fall, the altitude record for free-fall, the altitude record for a manned balloon flight and the first skydiver to break the sound barrier.

Fun fact: Joe Kittinger held almost all of those previous records. While it may be tough for him to see those records toppled, being part of the team to achieve those new records is rewarding in itself.

“I couldn’t have done better myself,” Kittinger said as he watched Baumgartner fall to earth.

Kittinger’s focus in 1960 was on the science behind the jump, and it still is today. For him, it’s all about leaving behind a legacy. And more than 50 years after his mission, he’s still creating that legacy.

“From the beginning of mankind, the boys want to go higher, faster, lower,” Kittinger told The New York Times.“It’s a fascinating part of human nature. We’re never satisfied with the status quo.”

Incidentally, not all of Kittinger’s records fell today. Baumgartner deployed his parachute a few seconds short of Kittinger’s record for the longest freefall.

— David Williams (3PR)

Felix Baumgartner and Joe Kittinger before the Red Bull Stratos Mission Jump

With Joe Kittinger’s help, Felix Baumgartner broke Kittinger’s record for the highest parachute fall. Photo by Predrag Vuckovic/Red Bull Content Pool.

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—David Williams (3PR)

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