Even if you took a day off from the Internet on Sunday, you still probably caught a glimpse of 43-year-old Felix Baumgartner, who broke the sound barrier when he jumped out of a capsule floating around 24 miles above Earth. On this note, Baumgartner — you know, the guy who flew over the English Channel in a one-man wing-suit and base-jumped off the Cristo Redentor, to name a few past stunts — plans to retire.
But breaking the sound barrier, travelling at nearly 835 miles per hour, achieving Mach 1.24, and not bursting into flames in the process wouldn't be possible without the Worcester-based aerospace firm, David Clark Co. Inc.
David Clark is not a newcomer to this kind of innovation. The aerospace manufacturer, which is primarily known for headsets and microphones, has been instrumental in the design and development of high-speed, high-altitude suits. From anti-G suits that kept World War II pilots from blacking out mid-flight to Project Gemini's astronaut outfits, the DCC has left its mark on notable aerospace endeavors since 1941.
Their latest model, which, according to the Red Bull Stratos team, "may serve as the prototype for the next generation of explorers," is a four-layer, full-pressure suit modified from the standard full-pressure suits used by high-altitude reconnaissance pilots. Besides its maneuverability and weight — and its reported ability to make breaking through the sound barrier feel like nothing -- it also features a dizzying number of chips, sensors and high-definition cameras.
Baumgartner's iteration is a massive evolution from Joe Kittenger's partial pressure suit used in his 19-mile-high jump in 1960, known as the Excelsior III. Back then, Kittenger's suit was a 320-pound mix of tubes, tanks and insulated coveralls. Baumgartner's, by comparison, clocks in at around 100 pounds and allows him to move in mid-air and see where he is via strategically placed mirrors — all essential qualities that keep him from entering an unshakable, and possibly fatal, flat spin.
Kittenger told Andrew Zaleski in the August issue of The Atlantic:
Comparing my equipment to what Felix has is like comparing a Model T to a 2020 Ferrari.
For David Clark, this suit proves they haven't lost their aerospace mojo. As Dan Barry of the company said in an interview with Wired.com, the jump is “a chance to validate current equipment, and to protect future vehicles as man continues to fly higher and faster and the environment gets harsher and harsher."
-- Watch the jump here:
And as with any worldwide spectacle, the Internet went to work meme-ifying Baumgartner's space jump. Here's a collection:
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This program aired on October 15, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.