Taking our attention away from music entirely, GMA managed to get some time out with none other than Mr. Felix Baumgartner, the Austrian daredevil who set the world record for highest jump, fastest free-fall and other various records last year, surpassing Joe Kissinger.
Here is how the interview panned out:
Felix, given that you're now possibly the most famous Austrian of modern times, are you hoping that someone will want to follow in your footsteps in the future?
Well, while maybe that's exaggerating my fame, I realize that the jump put me in the public eye, and I do hope others will follow in my footsteps – but not only by setting aerospace records. Records are made to be broken, and I’m sure somebody will set out to break my altitude and speed records one day. If they can do it with a safe program – and especially if they can provide scientific data like we did with Red Bull Stratos, and like Joe Kittinger’s jump did in 1960 – that’s what progression is all about. But besides that, I think Red Bull Stratos reminded people what can be achieved when you have a clear vision and a dedicated team that rises above challenges. If we’ve inspired people to follow their own dreams and passions, even in very different fields, that’s a legacy we can be proud of.
As the world was watching your stratospheric jump, how was you feeling at the time of the jump? Nervous? Excited? What was it like to see the world from nearly 39,000 meters in the sky?
I was all business. This was a flight test program in a dangerous environment, so it was important to stay focused on what I needed to do. For example, I had to go through a checklist of more than 40 items just to get out of the capsule and prepare to jump! But of course when I was standing on the capsule step, I did try to inhale the moment and appreciate it. The view was incredible. Below me, I could see the curve of the earth, but above the sky was black. Completely black. I’d never seen black sky before. It was beautiful and humbling at the same time. Still, I was aware that I had only about 10 minutes of oxygen on my back and I could not afford to become distracted. I had to jump without wasting too much time.
What was the worst part of your experience, both in preparation and the skydive itself?
I don’t really tend to think in terms of “worst” experiences. In a flight test program like this one, you learn important lessons even from the setbacks. But I can tell you that waiting was sometimes hard – whether that was waiting for the capsule to be re-assessed after it took a hard test landing or waiting for the necessary weather conditions. (Days when the weather is safe to launch a massive balloon are very, very rare, even in the desert of New Mexico. And no one had ever launched a balloon as large as mine with a human on board, so the team was especially careful to make sure the weather was perfect.) In the weeks and days leading up to the jump, I sometimes felt a little bit like a tiger in a cage – I was eager to get on with things after five long years of training and preparation.
If you could pass on any advice to someone who also wants to become a BASE jumper, what would you say?
Find an excellent teacher who has lots of experience, and pay attention to everything that teacher tells you. BASE jumping is a demanding sport, and mistakes can have consequences – so learn from the experience of others.
How was you welcomed in your home town and of course Vienna? Did you meet anyone of high importance i.e. Heinz Fischer
The welcome back to Austria was amazing! It felt so good to be home, and people – not just my friends and family, but also people I’d never met before – were so enthusiastic. Many of the members of the mission team joined me in Salzburg for a homecoming celebration and broadcast, which made it extra special. I was very happy to show them around.
What will you be focusing on now? Taking time out with your family or preparing for another challenge?
While I love to hang out with my family and friends, I’ve been on the road a lot in the 12 months since the jump. My next focus, however, is another dream I’ve had since childhood. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to be a skydiver and fly helicopters. Well, you know how the skydiving turned out – so now that the Red Bull Stratos mission is finished, I’m going to be spending more time on that other passion: helicopters. Even before my jump, I had my private helicopter pilot’s license in Austria and the United States, as well as my commercial European license, and I’ve already done some piloting work. In the future I’d like to put my skills into public service – like piloting mountain rescues or flights to put out wildfires.
Would you do the skydive again if you wanted to and the possibility was there?
I’m the kind of person who doesn’t really enjoy repeating an achievement. All through my career, once I reached a goal, I learned from it and moved forward to the next challenge. I think we accomplished what we set out to do with Red Bull Stratos: we proved that a human can break the sound barrier in freefall, and we provided data to help researchers who are looking for solutions for high-altitude bailout in emergencies. Now it’s time to move on.
Finally are there any hello's, thank you's, greetings you wish to issue to people you know and worked with?
If I started, I wouldn’t know where to stop! So many people have helped me achieve my dreams, and my thanks to them are very personal. Instead, let me thank all the people I haven’t worked with, but who have supported me in other ways: people who followed the mission webstream, or who sent me words of encouragement, or who let me know that Red Bull Stratos was meaningful to them or to their kids. Everyone has their own goals and challenges in life, and when people have been generous enough to share their messages of support with me, it’s meant a lot. My thanks and best wishes to all!
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