Is a parachute a free fall

15.10.2012

The Austrian Felix Baumgartner fell from a balloon capsule from a height of 39 kilometers. In his death-defying jump, he broke the sound barrier and reached a top speed of 1,342 kilometers per hour. After four minutes and 19 seconds of free fall, he was back on solid ground.

“It was much more difficult than we assumed,” Baumgartner said later. Yesterday, over the US state of New Mexico, he let himself be carried into the stratosphere by a balloon capsule. His jump goes according to plan, but shortly afterwards the 43-year-old Austrian gets into a tailspin. Again and again he overturns. The images are broadcast around the globe, and the whole world holds its breath at the sight. "It was brutal," remembers Baumgartner of the near-catastrophe: "For seconds I thought I was going to lose consciousness." Finally, he succeeds in stopping the deadly tumult with his arms.

When he finally lands safely on earth with his parachute, he kneels on the desert sand. He stretches his hands up to the sky: He actually survived the maddening leap. But something else worries him: “I hope we flew supersonic,” he calls out. The measurements confirm: During his jump he broke the sound barrier and reached a top speed of 1,342 kilometers per hour.

This makes him the first person to move faster than sound without an airplane or spaceship. In addition, he now holds the record for the highest manned balloon flight. And never before had a person jumped with a parachute from such a ludicrous height. "Congratulations from us to Felix Baumgartner, a very, very courageous skydiver!" Then congratulated the European Space Agency ESA on Twitter.

Perfect preparation

Felix Baumgartner had been preparing for his life-threatening leap for five long years. Physically he is in top shape. But that's not enough for such a risk: A fire-resistant pressure suit was his life insurance. The heated suit ensured the body temperature during the jump. A hole in it would have been fatal, as temperatures of up to minus 70 degrees Celsius and extremely low air pressure prevail at high altitudes. Oxygen is scarce, so the Austrian was supplied with breathing air through the helmet. During the fall, he was able to maintain contact with his team on the ground through the helmet. He could also have opened an umbrella that stabilized the flight using the emergency buttons on the suit. He didn't use it: that would have endangered his record after all.

29.5.1931

The Swiss physicist Auguste Piccard and his assistant Paul Kipfer set off on a risky high-altitude flight on the night of May 27th: In a self-constructed gas balloon they reached an altitude of over 15 kilometers after a short time. 17 hours later, after a dramatic journey, the balloon and its crew landed unscathed on a glacier in Austria.

Provisions for two days and oxygen for around 20 hours: Equipped in this way, the aviation pioneers Piccard and Kipfer shoot into the sky at 3.56 a.m. The starting point for their “Ascension Command”, an Augsburg meadow, has been carefully chosen: Piccard doesn't want to land in the water and Augsburg is about the same distance from all seas. There are also steady winds over the city.

The self-made aluminum ball, in which Piccard and Kipfer are wedged, has a diameter of only 2.10 meters. It is equipped with all kinds of measuring devices. Because the two researchers want to explore the cosmic and radioactive radiation in the stratosphere. They have already tried a failed take-off attempt, but this time it seems to work: just under half an hour after take-off, they fly over 15 kilometers high. At around 8 a.m., they break the record in altitude: 15,785 meters above the ground, they are the first people to see the curvature of the earth with their own eyes. But up there it gets unbearably hot: the temperature in the aluminum capsule measures almost 41 degrees Celsius. They forgot their water supplies. Tormented by thirst, they lick the condensation from the wall of the sphere.

The aviation pioneers want to land around noon, but the gas valve cannot be opened: a line has become tangled. The wind drives the balloon with it for hours across the Alps. The vehicle is finally sinking. In the evening, at exactly 9 p.m., they finally have ground under their feet again: On a glacier near Obergurgl in the Ötztal, they land hard on a snowfield. A rescue team can only rescue the balloonists in the morning. You are the heroes of this day!

Between hope and fear

In his log book, Auguste Piccard describes the adventurous balloon ride and the failed attempts to land:

10:10 a.m.: You can't pull the valve rope. We are prisoners of the air. Sentenced to wait until 2 or 3 or 4 a.m. Then we come down.

10:25 a.m .: 39 degrees; Upper body completely undressed. Heat so bearable.

2:08 p.m.: I can't understand why the balloon doesn't want to sink.

As the Alps approach: the sight is overwhelming in and of itself. I have never seen such an abundance of mountains. The clouds that move around the mountains add to the splendor. Everyone has seen them from below. Now we see them from above.

5:50 p.m.: We only have oxygen in the pressure bottle for four hours.

6.48 p.m.: Why, why don't we fall?

7:34 p.m.: I can't understand why we're not sinking yet.

8:29 p.m.: We will not suffocate, but high mountains!

9 p.m .: landing

11.5.1978

No sensible person would have thought that possible: Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler climbed the highest mountain on earth without an oxygen device. The two extreme mountaineers arrived at the base camp yesterday, completely exhausted but happy.

Your climb to the summit of Everest begins on May 8, in the morning at half past five, after an icy night in a tent. They have been on their way up from base camp since May 6th. They are not frightened by the warnings of many doctors: They want to climb the roof of the world without artificial oxygen. A failed attempt is already behind them. Another attempt now follows from a height of almost 8,000 meters. The ascent in the thin mountain air is an ordeal, every step is torture. But both of them are in top shape and they have experience.

At noon they reach an altitude of 8,800 meters. The legs are heavy as lead, the tiredness can hardly be described. But they overcome their pain and trudge on, as if in a trance. Finally they achieve the seemingly impossible: You are standing on the summit of Everest. World record! From exhaustion, they let themselves fall into the snow. After a long break, Messner takes his camera out of his backpack and films. Back in the tent, they radio the base camp: They made it!

During the night Messner is tormented by terrible pain in his eyes: he is snow-blind. Habeler's ankle is injured. Nevertheless, the two manage to descend to base camp on May 10th. Only now do they understand their success, a feeling of triumph fills them. The sensation is perfect: Peter Habeler and Reinhold Messner have proven that Mount Everest can also be climbed without an oxygen device.

In the death zone

Doctors had warned Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler: Moving around 8,000 meters above sea level without artificial oxygen is extremely dangerous to health. Brain cells could die and suspend controlled thinking, including the threat of unconsciousness. "You will come back as a fool," it was said briefly and drastically.

In fact, altitude sickness is not to be trifled with. From around 2,000 meters, the thinning air can make itself felt through shortness of breath, dizziness, headache or vomiting. The lungs take in less and less oxygen with increasing altitude, and the body is undersupplied. Above 7,000 meters - in the death zone - most people will pass out if they do not get extra oxygen. In the worst case, the extreme altitude leads to death. This fact has already cost many climbers their lives. The fact that Habeler and Messner climbed the summit without breathing apparatus actually borders on a miracle. It can only be explained with meticulous planning, incredible physical fitness and an iron will.

The layers of the atmosphere

Similar to the floors of a multi-storey house, the atmosphere is divided into several layers. These layers have different properties - let's start on the "ground floor":

Dark storm clouds or blue skies, gentle breezes or strong winds: almost all weather events take place up to a height of 15 kilometers. This lower layer of the atmosphere is therefore also called the weather layer. Scientists say Troposphere to. Around 90 percent of all air and almost all of the water vapor in the earth's atmosphere are contained in this layer. The higher the position in the troposphere, the colder it gets: At its upper limit, icy temperatures of up to minus 80 degrees Celsius prevail.

In the layer above, the stratosphere, the temperature suddenly rises again. At an altitude of around 50 kilometers, the thermometer even reaches a value of around 0 degrees Celsius. The reason for this warming is the ozone layer, which lies within the stratosphere. This works like a heater: it absorbs the sun's UV radiation and converts it into heat.

Above the stratosphere lies at an altitude of 50 to 80 kilometers Mesosphere. Because this layer does not contain ozone, it becomes bitterly cold again, down to minus 100 degrees Celsius. This makes the mesosphere the coldest layer in the atmosphere. Here dust particles and smaller rocks from space are stopped, which would otherwise fall to earth as meteorites. We can sometimes see these celestial bodies as shooting stars in the sky at night.

Above the mesosphere, the air is getting thinner and thinner. The gravity weakens with increasing altitude and can therefore hold the gas particles less and less. So that forms Thermosphere a smooth transition into space over hundreds of kilometers. The thermosphere takes its name from the high temperatures that prevail here: They rise up to 1700 degrees. In our opinion, however, it is not hot, because too few gases are buzzing around for the feeling of heat.

A shell made of gas

Seen from space, it appears like a fine bluish veil that surrounds the earth: the atmosphere. It is the envelope of air that surrounds our planet. Compared to the diameter of the earth, this shell is quite thin: if the earth were the size of an apple, the atmosphere would be about the thickness of its shell.

Without the atmosphere there would be no life on this planet, because plants, animals and humans need air to breathe. It protects us from the cold and from harmful radiation from space. It also lets meteorites burn up before they can hit the surface of the earth. This atmosphere is vital to us - but what is it actually made of?

The atmosphere is a mix of different gases. A large part of this gas mixture is nitrogen: At 78 percent, that's almost four fifths of the entire atmosphere. Only 21 percent consists of oxygen, which we need to breathe. The remaining one percent is made up of various trace gases - gases that only occur in traces in the atmosphere. These trace gases include methane, nitrogen oxides and, above all, carbon dioxide, or CO for short2 called. Although the CO2-Proportion is quite low, this trace gas has a tremendous impact on our earth's climate. This can be seen in the greenhouse effect, which is heating up our planet.

The fact that the earth has an atmosphere at all is due to gravity. It holds the gas molecules on earth and prevents them from simply flying out into space. In fact, the air becomes thinner and thinner with increasing altitude and thus decreasing gravity. Even at 2000 meters above sea level, this can become uncomfortable for people: He suffers from altitude sickness with shortness of breath, headaches and nausea. Extreme mountaineers who want to climb high peaks like the 8000m in the Himalayas therefore usually take artificial oxygen with them on their tour.