Photos By Jason Dixson, Words By Brandon Wetherbee
“It’s a great beverage but I won’t drink Red Bull,” said Red Bull Stratos Mission Consultant and original freefall record holder Joe Kittinger. He’s a funny man. He ascended 102,800 feet in an open carriage on August 16, 1960 and safely fell to Earth. 52 years later he helped Felix Baumgartner break his record. He’s a funny guy.
On October 14, 2012, the Red Bull Stratos took Baumgartner, an expert parachutist, skydiver and BASE jumper, to the edge of space to break the sound barrier. Over 9.5 million devices streamed the event live on YouTube. Television stations around the world covered the historic event. His two-and-a-half hour flight up was terrifying and mesmerizing. His nine minute descent down was equally terrifying and mesmerizing. After seven years of planning, a parachutist set a new record and, thanks to an energy drink, advances in medicine, health care and space travel are enjoying the benefits of their work. And Red Bull is in a Smithsonian.
Last night’s opening reception was an odd mix. It was a typical DC museum/drinks/DJ/whatever early evening shindig. Kudos to the DJ for not playing R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” and shame on the DJ for not playing Sugar Ray’s “Fly.” People mingled and not a whole lot was going on but at a certain point, you realized why everyone was there and it became inspiring and absurd.
Some dude that nearly died because he wanted to break the sound barrier was there. Have you ever had way-too-sweet champagne with a dude that broke the sound barrier? It’s weird. What do you ask? I asked about the insurance policy. No one would give me an answer about money. We did find out that the Statos Mission was attached to the already existing insurance policy for the Red Bull Air Race.
What do you do after this? How do you spend seven years on a mission that may kill you while the whole world watches and go back to ‘normal’ life? Baumgartner is going to become a helicopter rescue pilot. Joe Kittinger and Technical Project Director Art Thompson are going to continue to work in the private space field.
A man went to the edge of space because an energy drink company funded his dream. That’s the reality of the Red Bull Stratos Mission. It’s both inspiring and depressing. Inspiring because a man broke the sound barrier in a freefall from the edge of space and depressing because why wasn’t this a NASA mission?