Felix Baumgartner likely anticipated some turbulence as he prepared to take a balloon to 120,000 feet and then jump out in an attempt to beat the free-fall record while reaching supersonic speeds.
But what he probably didn’t anticipate is the legal turbulence that has put an indefinite hold on his 23-mile jump.
Last week, Red Bull GmbH and Red Bull North America, Inc. decided to stop the Red Bull Stratos program immediately until a multi-million dollar lawsuit can be resolved. Daniel Hogan filed a lawsuit in April in Los Angeles Superior Court, saying that in 2004 he pitched the idea to Red Bull to break retired Col. Joe Kittinger's record, and the company talked with him about the project for a year before backing out.
According to a company statement on the Stratos Web site: “Despite the fact that many other people over the past 50 years have tried to break Colonel (Ret.) Joe Kittinger's record, and that other individuals have sought to work with Red Bull in an attempt to break his record, Mr. Hogan claims to own certain rights to the project… Red Bull has acted appropriately in its prior dealings with Mr. Hogan, and will demonstrate this as the case progresses. Due to the lawsuit, we have decided to stop the project until this case has been resolved.”
According to a Courthouse News Service story from April, Hogan's complaint claims that "the daredevil stunt would be worth $375 million to $625 million in advertising to any corporate sponsor."
It’s been more than 50 years since Kittinger made a series of high-altitude parachute jumps from the gondola of a helium balloon as part of "Project Excelsior." It was part of ongoing research into how the human body reacts to high altitudes, and demonstrated that properly protected, airmen could exit their aircraft at extremely high altitudes and free fall back into the Earth's atmosphere without dangerous consequences, according to the Centennial of Flight. Kittinger reached speeds of 614 mph in freefall, before it was safe to pop his parachute.
But he didn’t break the sound barrier, and that’s what Baumgartner had hoped to achieve. According to Discovery News, Red Bull assembled a team of scientists to help prepare Baumgartner for the jump, including veteran aerospace engineer Art Thompson and six-time Space Shuttle crew surgeon Jonathan Clark. Kittinger himself gave his blessing to the project and participated in some of the planning.
Pilot Felix Baumgartner, left, shakes hands with United States Air Force Col.(Ret.) Joe Kittinger, right, following the Red Bull Stratos press conference announcing Baumgartner's intent to break the record Photo credit: Associated Press
Felix Baumgartner shakes hands with Neil Armstrong in August 2010. Photo credit: Red Bull Stratos
Joe Kittinger readies himself for a high-altitude jump, standing beside the Excelsior gondola. The sign at the lower edge of the gondola says: "This is the highest step in the world." Photo credit: U.S. Air Force Museum