On Sunday, an Austrian dude named Felix voluntarily fell from the edge of space down to Earth, breaking the speed of sound in the name of an energy drink.
It was, simultaneously, one of the greatest and stupidest things I’ve ever seen. That is my excuse for putting the following observations in list form rather than organizing them in a more neat fashion.
* The insanity was broadcast live on YouTube and drew as many as 8 million viewers at one time. There are so many channels and entertainment options now that it’s amazing anything attracts that many eyeballs let alone a stunt shown on the Ultranets. This seems like a watershed moment for watching live events on the Web.
* This may have backfired on Red Bull in that its previous stunts – like the biker jumping the Arc De Triomphe in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve 2008 – will seem totally lame going forward. How in the hell do you top this? There are only two ways: Going bigger or going terribly wrong. By no means am I suggested that Red Bull would purposely botch a similar event; rather, tragedy has a way of pulling people in during that moment and in future attempts.
* When daredevil Felix Baumgartner was dangling over the edge of, well, the world … holy cow. It must have been like climbing to the top of the largest water slide and peering over the edge before taking the plunge – times 48 trillion. I feared he was going to back out when the old guy at mission control – 84-year-old Joseph Kittinger (more on him later) had to repeat the order to remove his seat belt. Except he didn’t. Not only that, Baumgartner offered a military-style salute with his right hand before beginning the free fall. Has to be one of the top-5 coolest gestures of all time. In fact, touchdown dances should be banned moving forward because they’re all silly by comparison.
* Just like Lloyd Christmas, I cannot believe we landed on the moon and subsequently put a spacecraft on Mars. Because this is easier than that yet this looked sketchy at best. I had a bad feeling that something was going to go wrong, especially when Baumgartner started to flip over and over early in the fall. Most days, I’m so tired that I can barely keep my eyes from rolling into the back of my head – how did this guy stay conscious let alone retain his bearings? My brain would have gone into the fetal position and shut off completely. I’m sure there was extensive preparation, but how do you know how to train somebody for that specific venture?
And, again, how do you pull that off in 1960? That is, Baumgartner did not set the record for the longest time in a free fall – that mark (4:36) still belongs to Kittinger. TV barely existed then. Al Gore had yet to invest the Internet. The country wasn’t entirely desegregated. Good grief. Maybe everyone involved with that projected was whacked out on LSD. That’s about the only way it would make sense.
* The mind-blowing stats from this successful mission: Baumgartner climbed more than 24 miles into the air and feel freely for 4 minutes, 19 seconds at a peak speed of 834 mph. (Soak that in for a second. … Oh, snap.) But for what? Early reports are that he won’t get especially rich – is the chance of fame worth the risk of death? This is unlikely to spark a new industry, and the U.S. space program has been scaled back.
My best guess: He did it because he could, because it ultimately enhanced his life and inspired others to push the limits. Although not exactly apples to apples, what if the Wright Brothers hadn’t taken flight? That must have seemed completely insane and unnecessary at the time, and now air travel plays a large role in marking the world what it is.
I will not be standing in line to replicate this feat, but I’d definitely watch it again, and am grateful for reckless goofballs like Baumgartner and his over-caffeinated sponsor.