On Sunday, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner made history by jumping from a helium-filled balloon from an estimated height of 128,097 feet. This daring act serves to inspire and push the limits of mankind’s accomplishments — even if some only see Baumgartner’s feat as nothing more than a publicity stunt.
According to preliminary data, Baumgartner set four new world records. He’s the first man to break the sound barrier without travelling in a jet or spacecraft, he was the pilot in the highest manned-balloon flight, he now holds the record for the man to jump from the highest altitude and his fall holds the record for the most concurrent live YouTube streams with eight million viewers worldwide.
Critics view Baumgartner’s jump as a publicity stunt and a cash grab campaign from Red Bull, the sponsor of the event. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star remarked: “The Mars thing? The moon landing? They contributed something significant to scientists. This? This was a (cool) stunt.” Smith, and others, argue that Baumgartner’s jump does not parallel other space achievements of the past. Some claim that Red Bull isn’t in it for the science, questioning their motives as nothing more than a way to promote their brand.
Although Red Bull benefits from advertising through the wide range of extreme sports the company sponsors, they must be commended for the funding they provide for innovation in many areas. In an age of increasing US government austerity — especially towards the space program — sponsorship from private corporations could be the future of funding for many areas of groundbreaking research and scientific discovery. From this jump, the Red Bull Stratos team and NASA were hoping to contribute to the development of space suits, to explore the effects of supersonic acceleration and deceleration on the human body and to develop protocols for exposure to these conditions. Data collected from this jump could open the door to the next age of space exploration and tourism — making it much more than just a marketing ploy.
Baumgartner said of his jump, “I want to inspire the next generation”. As his feat captivated a live audience worldwide, inspired posts on Facebook and Twitter reflected that he may have accomplished this goal. One small such Tweet from Opie Radio said, “Thanks to Felix Baumgartner I now have the confidence to jump off the high diving board without hesitating.” The determination and hard work Baumgartner invested in this project shows the world what humans can accomplish. A feat of this magnitude shows us that dreaming big can pay off. Baumgartner is not a robotic super-human; his moment of hesitation before hurling himself to earth showed his humanity, reminding us that everyday people can accomplish great things.
Through all his adventures and accomplishments Baumgartner has remained modest. He claims that it’s not about breaking any records or making a name for himself, rather, it’s about gaining scientific data and making sure he comes home alive. And he’s right. In a small way, Baumgartner was able to contribute to scientific research while people of the world come together.
On a global scale, the information gathered through Baum-gartner’s jump will serve to advance space exploration and information in the scientific community. On an individual level, every viewer of his jump should feel inspired by what he did and seek to dream big and explore their life. The jump was more than just a massive commercial for Red Bull: it’s a reminder that people should be testing their limits and always striving to achieve more.
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