On October 12, 2012, one man reminded the millions of live viewers on YouTube that courage is still the driving force of innovation. None of us can imagine the feeling of literally standing over the world, looking down, barely being able to make out any familiar landmarks. For those who saw the live stream, it’s hard to forget the images just before he takes the jump. Even the idea of watching a man floating high up at the edge of space takes my breath away.
Red Bull Stratos attempted to go beyond the limits that have, for many years, existed. Aided by a team of experts, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner ascended to 120,000 feet in a capsule attached to a stratospheric balloon and made a freefall jump, rushing toward Earth at supersonic speed before parachuting safely to the ground. This was the ultimate leap of faith. So much could have happened, yet he simply jumped. His successful landing after daring atmospheric limits provided valuable medical and scientific research data for future pioneers. This may be essential data for the eventual human conquering of space, yet it could also help shape a brighter and more balanced future for Earth.
Watching the scene unfold was like watching a science fiction film. It was surreal to watch the gargantuan balloon expand and lift Baumgartner’s little capsule toward the enveloping dark of the cosmos. It was the kind of moment one would pay a full ticket price to see on the big screen, accompanied by some bombastic orchestral score. There was no music laid over the live stream; this was reality, and this brave man really stood on top of the world.
As a young boy, maybe I still do dream of that; I wanted to become an astronaut. I imagined sitting in a spaceship, traveling to far worlds. Flying has always been the fascination of humanity, simulating the freedom of birds. It’s not just the freedom of being able to move around as one pleases, but also the sensation of not being limited to one location. It vests a power to do more, and discover more. The latter is perhaps the foundation of science. Felix Baumgartner embodies that urge to discover, to push the envelope, “to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
Indeed, the famous phrase from Star Trek is the unsung verse of the great pioneers who put exploration before themselves. Felix Baumgartner truly experienced a view for which to kill. If I were up there, I would want to take some time to relish the enormity of the moment, and the sheer beauty of our planet. As I was watching him leap back down to Earth, I was, simply put, jealous. Not for the fame, heroism, or ego, but for the beauty of the moment alone, I would pay a lot of money to have a similar experience.
Science is one of the few things that you can love and appreciate, even though the means and implications are beyond comprehension. Watching a man breach the sound barrier may not make sense scientifically, but it still inspires people. That’s why science should continue to advance, improve, and enhance the human condition. Baumgartner epitomizes the most influential value of all: courage.
Image: Jay Nemeth/Red Bull Content Pool