The Supersonic Suit

Why would anyone jump from 23 miles above the earth's surface?

To see what would happen–and because they know they'll be protected by a high-tech pressurized suit to protect them as they fall.

More than merely a daredevil stunt, the Red Bull Stratos project is a serious attempt to break the record for the highest freefall–120,000 feet above the earth–and in the process also become the first parachutist to break the sound barrier plummeting toward the ground at over 760 mph. It may sound crazy, but the team of engineers and scientists behind the jumper, Austrian Felix Baumgartner, hope to cull volumes of data from the event that will later be used to develop advanced life support systems for future pilots, astronauts, and even space tourists. Consequently, perhaps the most critical element to the mission is the special supersonic suit he'll be wearing, a suit that represents the culmination of over 50 years of research and testing.

Developed by engineers at the Massachusetts-based David Clark Company, the suit and helmet Baumgartner will don is a custom design. The David Clark Company has been developing pilot and astronaut protective suits since 1941 when it made the first anti-G suits to prevent World War II fighter pilots from blacking out during high-G maneuvers. Since then, the company has developed a range of PPAs or pilot protective assemblies, ranging from pressurized suits for U-2 spy plane pilots to launch entry suits for Space Shuttle astronauts.

But no one has attempted to use a PPA to do what Baumgartner plans to do, so the David Clark Company had to tailor the suit to meet his particular needs. Typically, the type of suit Baumgartner will be wearing only has to withstand say, a pilot being ejected from a jet in his seat, but in this case it has to be designed for supersonic skydiving. MORE 

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About jquain

Technology reporter, writer, and television correspondent, JQ has been covering the computer, communications, and consumer electronics industries for more than 25 years.A contributor to The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, PC Magazine, U.S. News & World Report and many other publications, JQ appears on CBS News television program Up to the Minute and on Fox Business.
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