Science TEDx

What does one wear for a stratosphere jump? A talk from the man who designed Felix Baumgartner’s safety suit

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Last Sunday, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped out of a helium balloon from over 24 miles in the sky, and shattered world records by freefalling from an altitude of 128,100 feet to Earth. With the jump, Baumgartner became the first human to break the sound barrier, reaching an astonishing peak speed of 833 mph and creating a new answer for children everywhere to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

So what does you wear for a freefall of this magnitude? The answer comes in this talk from Dr. Jon Clark, a six-time space shuttle crew surgeon who helped create the suit that allowed Felix the Fearless to make this monumental leap.

A 26-year Navy veteran and former Special Forces parachutist, Clark has served in top roles at Johnson Space Center and specializes in crew survival, both in space and during re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere. It’s a topic very personal to him, as his wife — Laurel B. Clark — was killed when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated in the earth’s atmosphere in 2003. Clark serves as the space medicine advisor for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) at Baylor College of Medicine and is the chief medical officer for orbital commercial space company, Excalibur Almaz.

Since 2009, Clark has been a volunteer for the “Stratos” team, tasked with keeping Baumgartner safe through three stratosphere jumps. In this talk from TEDxUSC, Clark lays out the risks of the stratosphere, and the challenges that his team had to surmount to protect Baumgartner during his freefalls. Clark explains that the new age of space exploration will be underwritten by private entrepreneurs rather than that government (Baumgartner’s jump was sponsored by Red Bull) and that, within our lifetimes, the average citizen may be able to experience the stunning view from the stratosphere. Safely.