Watch this video. Fully. In its entirety. There are shorter videos out there, with just the highlights: the jump, the chute, the family. They don't do it justice.
Today, a man walked off the edge of space, broke the sound barrier, and parachuted to Earth.
"I know the whole world is watching now. I wish you could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to be up really high to understand how small you are... I'm coming home now." --Felix Baumgartner
This guy. History won't be made like this for a long time.
I have an incredible fear of heights. It's probably natural, a survival instinct hardwired into my genetics, but I mean, I get vertigo when I have to jump chasms in video games. And I've taken leaps of faith before. A couple of metres off the ground, onto a slide. Two storeys, at least. Not bad, I would think. I always noticed it's the act of jumping that is the terrifying part. Once you let go, once you're in free-fall, it's easy. It's almost fun. It's the jumping that my brain refuses to do.
Then, there's this guy. Thirty-nine kilometres into the sky. He looks down at the Earth, and at that resolution you can't define any object. It's all just hard, painful, bone-breaking rock. You can practically see the curvature of the planet, at that altitude. And he looked down, and I would believe he was imagining the breathtaking, life-changing plummet to the cold, unforgiving land below. Then he rips off a historic one-liner: "Sometimes you have to be up really high to understand how small you are..." and his brain threw his body off into the void.
Thirty-nine kilometres. If I could drive my learner car straight up, it would take me an hour to get to that point. If you took Singapore, and pulled it out of the South China Sea, and stuck Jurong into the ground vertically, the guy jumped from somewhere around Changi Airport. He took four minutes.
As I watch the video, I'm wondering what the people in the control room were thinking. This guy just threw himself out of a capsule from the stratosphere. My first, irrational, thought would be, "HOLY CRAP SOMEBODY CATCH HIM". But they were all sitting there, cool as cucumbers, watching a guy plummet to possibly certain death.
And then, your thoughts turn again to the man in the pressure suit. At that altitude, you can't tell how fast you're going, because there's nothing to take reference from. You might notice the ground getting closer, but since it's so big, it doesn't seem to be coming at you very quickly. You're just floating there, like swimming, but without water, while around you the friction is heating the air and a cone of atmosphere is forming behind you.
What do you think he was thinking of, in those four minutes and nineteen seconds of utter and complete freefall? What would you be thinking of? There's that nagging at the back of your head that you have to pull your chute sometime during the decent; but would you take a moment to step back and enjoy the view, knowing that you're never coming by this way again? Would you be contemplating man's insignificant existence in a chaotic universe, or would you be screaming "YOLO!" silently in your head? Would you be thinking of how many views this stunt is going to get on YouTube? Or would your scumbag brain niggle you with the possibility of your oxygen running out, or your visor cracking, or your chute failing and leaving the largest blood splatter in human history, or...
Originally, I thought it was really ironic that Red Bull would sponsor this event. But after all, flying is just throwing yourself at the ground, and missing.
Gives you wings,
The Edna Man