Austrian Felix Baumgartner, broke a record that had been set 50 years ago in a death-defying jump by retired Air Force colonel Joe Kittinger. Kittinger, now 84, coached the 43-year old Baumgartner and today talked him through the 2+ hour ascent into the edges of outer space. He coached,comforted and cheered him until the bunny jump — Baumgartner’s leap into space, 24 miles above sea level.
Here’s what I love about this.
It wasn’t that he broke a record, or even that he broke the sound barrier, which is pretty cool. It was that he broke the barriers of what most of us think of as living. He dissed normal and redefined possible. It is defiantly abnormal to spend five years planning to sit in a 100-pound space suit for 2+ hours inside a tiny helium-fed capsule as a jellyfish balloon, with skin a fraction of an inch thick inflates and rises up.
I love that the world watched holding its collective breath over something exciting and imaginative. No child stuck in a well or miners saved from disaster. This was just plain amazing. In a good way. No barriers ‘we’ on one side and ‘they’on the other.
We can’t imagine Felix’s feelings at reaching a top speed of 1342 km/hr (833 mph) — that’s 1.24 x faster than the speed of sound. Or what it is to be in the stratosphere, in free-fall for almost 4 and a half minutes. Nor that moment his chute opened and led him to a gentle touchdown on terra firma.
Of course we can’t. But we want to. So we try.
Our eyebrows go up. We get wide-eyed. Our throats tighten with emotion. We become children astounded and pushed forward by awe to a world of wonders. We experience a moment of collective transcendence. And damn if that doesn’t rock!