Balls Out at the Speed of Sound

CREDIT: Jay Nemeth/Red Bull Content Pool

There are a lot of “stunts” I don’t care much for. David Blaine standing for 72 hours in a chamber with Tesla-coil lightning … well, he might as well have stood there for 72 hours with a coin taped to his forehead.

When I was about 5 years old I decided I would stay up all night by myself, just to see what it was like. The answer is: Boring.

Ditto for David Blaine. Yes, it’s sort of impressive that someone can stand on their feet for 72 hours without a bathroom break. But it’s the standing there that’s the real deal. The rest is just bells and whistles, which makes it a silly accomplishment, and not worth watching.

But this one I actually like. Tomorrow, Tuesday,

Skydiver Attempts 23-Mile Supersonic Freefall: How to Watch Live

It’s got some meat to it. A something that nobody else has done that even qualifies as a sort of scientific experiment.

There was a slightly-comical typo in the third paragraph of the story when I read it:  “… the skydiver will begin a freefall that will send dim (sic) driving toward the ground faster than the speed of sound.” (If you scamper over there you might still see it.)

See the Explanatory  Infographic here.

Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner, I wish you the best.

Side musing: Doesn’t it seem odd that there’s a town you can drive to, 20 minutes from your house, and nothing much is different there, but if you take that same trip straight up, the breathable atmosphere plays out in less than 2 minutes and you’d need oxygen supplies to continue on, a pressurized cabin to complete the trip? Damn, our atmosphere is a scarily thin thing.

Baumgartner will be in the pressurized equivalent of a full space suit by the time he reaches his chosen altitude. He will see the curvature of the earth below him. And he will jump out.

Falling faster than sound? Wow. Now THAT is a stunt.

Just FYI, according to Wikipedia:

In dry air at 20 °C (68 °F), the speed of sound is 343.2 metres per second (1,126 ft/s). This is 1,236 kilometres per hour (768 mph).

Baumgartner will exceed Mach One within 40 seconds. He will be traveling “faster than a speeding bullet,” outracing the sound of his own passage through the thin air, and will be the only human alive to create a sonic shockwave (a bit of a colorful assumption on my part, but until someone tells me different, fuck it, I’m goin’ with it), slight though it might be in the thin atmosphere, with his own body.

You can sign up to watch via the Red Bull Stratos Mission Facebook page. You should probably sit down with a big bowl of popcorn. And some Red Bull.

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  • Arkady

    I still fondly remember the response of the British public when David Blaine did one of his ‘stunts’ over here. Marcus Brigstocke sums it up well:

    • Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

      Yes, the helicopter episode was one of the few occasions that I’ve been anywhere near proud of our country.

  • douglaslm

    I have wanted to free fall from orbit. If you bring yourself to a zero lateral velocity with respect to the point of the Earth that you are over, you should fall straight down with none of that inconvenient heating caused by your reentry into the atmosphere.
    I read about it when I was a kid in R. Heinlein’s book “Starship Troopers” and thought it would be fun.

    • Randomfactor

      If you bring yourself to a zero lateral velocity with respect to the point of the Earth that you are over

      Geosynchronous satellites do that all the time.

    • tacotaco

      I don’t think you understand how orbits work.

  • jamessweet

    In fairness to Blaine, the electrical arcs would probably be really annoying for those 72 hours. It’s no mean feat. not that it’s all that interesting, mind you, on that part I agree… but it is pretty impressive that he can do it.

  • jamessweet

    So I take it the reason he’ll be able to break the sound barrier without reaching terminal velocity is because of the thinness of the atmosphere at that height?

  • Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

    Question: will he actually be breaking the speed of sound at that air density?

  • fastlane

    See the links here:

    for some info. The speed of sound is lower at that altitude, but it reaches a minimum around 70k feet (Going from memory, there’s a chart at one of the links there). It’s quite possible. Kittinger almost got to the speed of sound (about 620 mph is minimum, again, IIRC), and officially reached .93 Mach. He deployed a stabilization chute fairly early though. Not sure how Baumgartner is going to stabilize himself.

  • leftwingfox

    Balls Out at the Speed of Sound

    I’m sorry, I don’t want my balls to be anywhere near a sonic boom. I do not want them to be subject to wind resistance at several thousand kilometres an hour, nor the pressure wave to ripple off them, or collapse anywhere near them.

  • douglaslm

    Although I understand your humor, the phrase “balls out” or “running balls out” originally came from the operators of steam engines. The throttle governors were a spinning device with 2 or more arms that opened as it spun. Picture an umbrella with no cloth spinning around. These arms had balls on them typically made of brass or steel. When the engine increased speed the faster the governor spun and the further out the balls where flung by the inertia. When the engine reached full speed the arms of the governor (with the ball on them) where straight out and the governor would not let the engine run any faster. So the phrase “running balls out” meant running as fast a possible.
    Lecture over. Sorry :)

    • Trebuchet

      Interesting. I’ve been familiar for years with the flyball governor and never associated that phrase with it!

      Meanwhile, the jump has been postponed again due to excessive wind at ground level.

    • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      Fifteen years from now, I won’t have any recollection of what I did, said, or thought this week, but this little nugget of information will still be with me, ready to be deployed as appropriate.

    • leftwingfox

      No need to apologize. I’ve actually seen those steam engine spinners, but didn’t realize that was where the expression came from. Cool. :)

      That said, even if I HAD know, my dirty little mind would still have still gone with the joke I made.

      More so because I’ve seen video of nude skydivers with one man’s junk flapping HARD in the breeze. That’s not an image that leaves the brain easily.

  • robb
  • fastlane

    The jump has been rescheduled for the 10/14. Hope the weather holds this time.

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