The former technical director of the B-2 Stealth bomber project will reportedly assist daredevil adventurer Felix Baumgartner’s plans to plunge 23 miles from the edge of space back to Earth.
Art Thompson, the former team technical director for the B-2 Stealth bomber project, said the team is preparing to move its operation from Texas to New Mexico, where Mr. Baumgartner will spend the next several days training for his record jump.
“This test was enormously important for our self-confidence. The success has given us an additional boost to rise to the challenges that still lie ahead,” said Mr. Thompson in a statement.
According to Red Bull, Mr. Thompson possesses more than three decades of experience in innovating leading-edge design that has produced major milestones in aerospace history, including development of the B-2 “Stealth” aircraft. A California native, he studied engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, and attended the University of La Verne and Northrop University.
Working for Northrop Corporation at the time, Mr. Thompson served on a team brainstorming ideas for an aircraft that could avoid radar detection. The final design would become the B-2 Spirit Stealth bomber.
In the process of his leap, Mr. Baumgartner hopes to become the first parachutist to break the sound barrier, plummeting toward the ground at 760 miles per hour. During his 10-minute journey to earth the Austrian daredevil will travel at more than 690 miles per hour inside a special suit, which must protect him from temperatures as low as -94 degrees F.
Mr. Baumgartner, a veteran 42-year-old skydiver from Austria, plans to rise to an altitude of 120,000 feet on a helium balloon equipped with a pressurized capsule.
The plunge, which is sponsored by Red Bull, will aim to break a long-standing world record. During the Air Force’s “Excelsior III” stratospheric test project in 1960, Joe Kittinger, a retired Air Force Colonel, took a free-fall from an altitude of 102,800 feet. He approached the speed of sound but did surpass it. He did, however, end up setting a record for highest, fastest and longest free-fall that has stood for more than a half-century.
It remains unclear exactly when the jump will take place. A spokesperson for Mr. Baumgartner denied reports that the plunge will take place in August of 2012, however, the team hinted that it will definitely take place some time during the current year.
Mr. Baumgartner, who in 2003 became the first person to “skydive” across the English Channel, will undertake two test jumps at 60,000 feet and 90,000 feet over the coming months to make sure the specialised equipment he is using will help him survive.
While the jump is an obvious boost for Red Bull, it may ultimately lead to some scientific benefits, say scientists.
Team medical director Dr. Jonathan Clark hopes their findings can eventually have an impact on space travel and tourism. Any data collected could provide a boost for space tourism and NASA, which has already indicated that it plans to boost its focus on private industry space travel and exploration.
“This mission is all about pioneer work. Maybe one day people will look back and say it was Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos team that helped to develop the suit that they’re wearing in space. We want to do something for posterity,” said Mr. Baumgartner.