Adventurer of the Year: Felix Baumgartner

It’s always fun to write about Felix Baumgartner.  Probably because I get into so many arguments about him.  People call him a daredevil, a nut, an adrenalin junkie, the Red Bull dude.  Anything but a serious explorer.  I wrote about him in October, just prior to his historic skydive from 128,000 feet (39,014m) on Oct. 14, 2012. A jump in which he also became the first human to break the sound barrier without a vehicle.

I watched the event live that morning, and although the Red Bull Stratos videos have been edited down to pure heroics, I can tell you there were a couple of minutes during the free fall, it did not look good.  As he fell through the sound barrier (well over 800 mph) Felix was tumbling wildly out of control, arms and legs flailing.  A hurricane will rip the roof off your house at 120 mph.  A tornado will rip it off its foundation with winds at 300 mph.  Nobody had any idea what 800 mph winds would do to the human body.  If Felix didn’t tuck in and regain control fast, he could have been ripped apart…

Obviously, we all know the ending.  It was picture perfect.  A man in a space suit soaring out of a cloudless sky, dropping to his knees in gratitude.  Fists held high.  It was awesome.  But now he’s up for Adventurer of the Year and if you’re gonna vote for him, you probably want to know this wasn’t just a Red Bull media stunt.  To me, it wasn’t.  But maybe you need to see a little more about Felix to be convinced…

Felix is way more than some guy who pulled a stunt.  He worked for 12 years to achieve what he did.  Because he was so well monitored, we know all kinds of things about the human body under extreme G forces.  We know NASA has at least one model to study for how to get humans back to earth, should their spacecraft fail.  And for the 70 million+ people who have seen the jump, there’s a whole new generation of explorers who just got an eyeful of possibility!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  when a guy does something this far out on the edge, we just don’t know its importance when it happens.  But the willingness to GO that far is something we can all respect.  Hope to meet him someday.  Can’t wait to see what he does next.