Felix Baumgartner: life on the edge

Felix Baumgartner
The world’s first supersonic skydiver, Felix Baumgartner, said he has officially retired from the daredevil business after shattering three world records when he jumped from the edge of space.

Dubbed Fearless Felix, the 43-year-old Austrian pushed the boundaries of human endurance and science with his feat over the New Mexico desert this month, reported to have cost some 50 million euros.

Euronews reporter Andrea Bolitho spoke to him and asked what he was thinking when he was poised on the edge of his capsule with the earth 39 kilometres below him.

He said: “Well, I was focused on the way up because I had a lot of things to do and then I was climbing out of that capsule. For a couple of seconds I had the chance to enjoy that view and it was an incredible view because it’s very outstanding, beautiful. But when you’re standing outside you cannot stand there for a long time because as soon as I disconnect from my ship system I only have 10 minutes of oxygen for my bailout bottles and when you’re standing there you realise really fast that you are in a very hostile environment. That means you have to step off fast.”

Euronews: “So what happened after you jumped?”

Felix Baumgartner: “We knew that I am going to go into a spin because it’s just a matter of fact, there’s almost no air, you are almost in a vacuum, so I knew I was going to over rotate a couple of times and it was just a question of how fast I was going to be able to stop that spin. And I did, I had to use all my skydiving skills to stop that spin and I did. So I really had to work well, to perform in those four minutes and 20 seconds.”

Euronews: “This is the spin that I’ve heard called a death spin, how exactly do you stabalise yourself when you’re whizzing round head over heels?”

Felix Baumgartner: “The thing is you cannot practice for that spin, you either go for supersonic or you don’t. And while your spinning you have about 50 seconds to find out to stop that spin so you have to use your arms and legs and you have to do everyhting gently because you have to remember you are travelling at 830 miles an hour so it’s really hard to find out how to stop that spin but I did.”

Euronews: “Were you aware of when you passed through the sound barrier? What was it like?”

Felix Baumgartner: “Actually I didn’t know when I was passing the sound barrier because there were no signs. I had been told there was going to be a shockwave going through my suit, I never saw that shockwave. I did not hear the supersonic boom because it happens way behind you so by the time I opened my parachute I did not know if I had broken the speed of sound or not but when I landed I was told by a lot of people that I broke the sounds barrier because they heard the supersonic boom on the ground.”

Euronews: “At what moment did you allow yourself to think you had made it, that the worst was behind you?”

Felix Baumgartner: “At the press conference when Brian Utley (an official observer monitoring the mission) came up with the numbers, that was the first time when I heard that I broke the speed of sound. And that was a good moment – believ me.”

Euronews: “So up until the moment your feet actually touched down on the earth you were still thinking ‘oh my goodness something could go wrong’.”

Felix Baumgartner: “No, as soon as opened my parachute I knew everything was over, the rest was just another day in the office.”

Euronews: “You pushed yourself to the limit – physically and mentally – how do you prepare for something like that?”

Felix Baumgarter: “Everytime you do a BASE jump, a high profile BASE jump it is difficult so I knew how to deliver if the heat is on plus I have been doing a lot of testing over the last couple of years. We have high altitude skydives, low altitude skydives, inside the suit, pressurised, not pressurised, we have been in a wind tunnel we also did a full dress rehearsal inside a chamber and we were testing the capsule and myself in terms of temperature and altitude. Then we made one flight from 70,000 feet, we made two flights from 90,000 feet so actually on that day when we were doing it for real and going all the way up to 129,000 feet I was totally prepared, mentally and physically.”

Euronews: “The jump was postponed because of bad weather and then it took about two and half hours to reach the right height – how do you keep your nerves under control?”

Felix Baumgartner: “Well it is not an easy thing, it is something I have had to learn over all these years because you are seated for a lot of hours and it is not easy – just sitting here (in interviews) for six, seven hours is not easy and it become really worse if you are in a pressure suit, just breathing oxygen, the only thing you hear is mission control or your own breathing noise. But you have to remain calm otherwise you’re not going to be successful.”

Euronews: “You have done several dangerous stunts in the past – why do you think are you drawn to taking these sort of risks?”

Felix Baumgartner: “I think is mostly, I started skydiving when I was 16 years old and I think when you stay in a sport for such a long time you want to push the limit to a certain level and this is what I did over all these years and when are you a young skydiver you always look up to Joe Kittinger because he’s the one who set the highest and the longest and fastest freefall in history and you always look up to that guy and I always though it would so cool to break that record and I never I’m gonna be that person but I got that chance in 2005 and I took it.”

Euronews: “You and your team had been preparing for the skydive for years, what were some of the most difficult technical challenges you had to overcome?”

Felix Baumgartner: “There have been a lot of difficult challenges over all these years. There has been the suit development because our suit is based on a standard airforce suit and then you have to change everything because an airforce suit is made for pilots who do everything or mostly in a seated position but I need to skydive in this suit. We also had to develop a lot of safety equipment just in case something goes wrong because safety was our main priority. We had to develop a capsule, a life support system in the capsule and also – you have seen all these pictures so what we developed over all these years is a flying TV studio and those pictures, I think they speak for themselves.”

Euronews: “The jump was amazing, but was it more than just a stunt? What was the scientific relevance?”

Felix Baumgartner: “Well it has not been a stunt, this has been a scientific challenge. We gained a lot of data and we proved to the world that a high altitude and safe re-entry is possible.”

Euronews: “One of your team Dr Jonathan Clark, lost his wife Laurel Clark in the Colombia space shuttle break-up, designing a suit that could protect an astronaut at high altitude must have been very close to his heart?”

Felix Baumgartner: “Oh yeah, I mean he was part of this whole programme and he really enjoyed working with us. And he was the one who was really interested in it and everything we have developed because what happened to his wife, could have saved his wife in the future, because our suit can withstand the sort of speed, we proved it was flying at supersonic speed, all the safety equipment that we developed would keep alive just in case something went wrong.”

Euronews: “What’s your response to people who say it was a waste of money?”

Felix Baumgartner: “Well people are always saying this but look at politics, look how much money they waste. This has been money that a private person, he was raising that money by selling Red Bull all these years and we brought a lot of happiness to people, I mean the whole world was watching and that speaks for itself.”

Euronews: “So what’s next for you?”

Felix Baumgartner: “I think I am officially retired from the daredevil business and I had a second dream when I was a little kid and that was flying helicopter so since 2006 I have my commercial helicopter licence and this is what I’m going to do in the future. Put my skills into public service, I’m gonna work as a firefighter, mountain rescue so again I’m in there, this is what I belong to.”

Euronews: “All the best with that Felix, thanks for joining us on euronews.”

Felix Baumgartner: “You’re welcome.”