Why Red Bull's Stratos Jump Was Just a Publicity Stunt—and Only Partially Successful

By Guest Blogger | October 16, 2012 1:36 pm

Amy Shira Teitel is a freelance space writer whose work appears regularly on Discovery News Space and Motherboard among many others. She blogs about the history of spaceflight at Vintage Space, where this post originally appeared, and tweets at @astVintageSpace.

According to YouTube, eight million people watched Felix Baumgartner’s high altitude jump on Sunday morning. It was exciting and death-defying, but at the end of the day it was a just an elaborate publicity stunt that will likely see Red Bull sales skyrocket this month. But I’d argue that the event wasn’t entirely a success from a publicity standpoint. Red Bull, who sponsored the jump, wasted an incredible opportunity. It had an eight million person audience captivated, but did nothing to teach that audience about the context behind Baumgartner’s jump. Joe Kittinger’s 1960 jump was amazing, the heritage behind these types of tests is fascinating, but without any context the audience just saw a daredevil break a record for record-breaking’s sake.

I realize I sound like an irritated historian, but I also have a background (albeit a brief one) in publicity. Not taking advantage of an opportunity to teach eight million people a few awesome things about science is a terrible waste, from an historian’s standpoint and a public relations standpoint.

A little background first. Austrian-born Baumgartner started skydiving at 16. He perfected the art and in 1988 began performing skydiving exhibitions for Red Bull. His adventurous spirit and Red Bull’s out-of-the-box thinking meshed well, sparking a now decades-long collaboration. The idea for a free fall from the stratosphere, a planned altitude of 120,000 feet, was conceived in 2005. It was finally named The Red Bull Stratos project, and its goal was defined as transcending “human limits that have existed for 50 years.”


Baumgartner during the record-setting event. Courtesy of Red Bull Stratos.

Ostensibly, the jump was designed to expand the boundaries of human flight. More concrete goals listed on the project’s website include: developing new spacesuits with enhanced mobility and visual clarity to assist in “passenger/crew exit from space”; developing protocols for exposure to high-altitude and high-acceleration environments; exploring the effects of supersonic acceleration and deceleration on the human body; and testing the latest innovations in parachute systems.

It’s not entirely clear what applications this data would have, like the research on “passenger/crew exit from space.” The morning of the jump, people asked me whether the point was to prove that astronauts could jump from the International Space Station in an emergency. It wasn’t. Baumgartner’s 128,000-foot altitude (he overshot his mark) is only about 24 miles; the ISS orbits at an altitude of about 200 miles. Not to mention the astronauts on the ISS are weightless because they’re falling (i.e., orbiting) around the Earth at the same rate as the station, and that wouldn’t change if they stepped outside. It’s also unclear what other high-altitude/high-acceleration and supersonic environments in which people would find themselves that we need to know more about. Yes, there may have been some interesting data gathered from the jump, but it’s not enough to classify the stunt as any kind of research program.


The International Space Station, which you really shouldn’t jump out of. Courtesy of NASA.

But what bothered me the most is how Red Bull presented the jump. Saying that the Stratos project was designed to “transcend human limits that have existed for 50 years” is a good tagline, but it’s vague. Jumping from 24 miles doesn’t push human limits so much as technological limits. Technology kept Baumgartner alive during his ascent, protected him from the harsh environment during the fall, and slowed him to a soft landing. The other thing that stands out in the tagline is its implication that we haven’t learned anything about surviving in these types of extreme environments since 1962. In reality, test pilots and astronauts in the mid-to-late 1960s were subjected to high G-forces, relied on intricate life support systems throughout missions, and were spared exposure to the vacuum of space by spacesuits.

A schematic showing the layers of Earth’s atmosphere.
The stratosphere isn’t quite space. Courtesy of NASA.

Which brings up another problem with Red Bull’s promotion of the Stratos jump. It was touted as being a jump from space, but 24 miles isn’t space. There’s no clear limit where the atmosphere ends and space begins, but the general consensus is that it’s around the 62 mile mark. NASA, which was established to run the space game in 1958, has awarded astronaut wings to pilots who’ve flown higher than 50 miles. Calling the Stratos event a jump from space is just not true (widely known as “#spacejump” on Twitter); unfortunately, with eight million people watching, those eight million people now have a mistaken idea about space.

This was far from the only misinformation associated with the event. Red Bull did a terrible job at presenting Kittinger’s 1960 jump. A real shame, especially since Kittinger was the person directly in touch with Baumgartner during his fall (his capsule communicator, or “capcom”). From the Red Bull Stratos website:

Joe’s record jump from 102,800 ft in 1960 was during a time when no one knew if a human could survive a jump from the edge of space… Although researching extremes was part of the program’s goals, setting records wasn’t the mission’s purpose. Joe ascended in [a] helium balloon launched from the back of a truck. He wore a pressurized suit on the way up in an open, unpressurized gondola. Scientific data captured from Joe’s jump was shared with U.S. research personnel for development of the space program.

This description isn’t just wrong, exactly, but it completely ignores the history of, reasoning behind, and accomplishments of Kittinger’s jump.

In the 1960s, pilots were pushing the envelope of supersonic flight at high altitudes. But this was a dangerous approach. While it’s easy to fly fast in the thin upper atmosphere it’s harder to control an aircraft. With no air for control surfaces to push against, aircraft tend to tumble, and when aircraft tumble pilots tend to eject. Tests with dummies showed that when falling from high altitudes, human bodies tended to get into a flat spin. It would be like rolling down a hill really fast but without the hill, and the G-forces would certainly be fatal. The Air Force needed a way to stabilize a pilot from a high altitude ejection, and Francis F. Beaupre had a sequential parachute that would do just that. Kittinger jumped from 102,800 feet in 1960 as part of Project Excelsior to prove that Beaupre’s parachute would work. It did, the Air Force had data and a healthy Kittinger as evidence, and the project ended. There was no live video of his jump. He was a Captain in the Air Force, and he jumped from 102,800 feet for Captain’s pay to complete a mission.

The full story behind Kittinger’s jump is a fascinating one. It pulls together classic themes like 1960s test pilots’ egos, their relationships with their aircraft, the push from atmospheric flight to spaceflight, and the era where men were probing unknowns because they were unknown.

Joe Kittinger in his Air Force days.
Courtesy of United States Air Force.

During Baumgartner’s more-than-two-hour-long ascent to jump altitude, Red Bull could have told Kittinger’s story. The announcer could have talked about the technology keeping Baumgartner alive, what made his suit different or special, told us how he was able to break the sound barrier in a free fall, talked about problems like aerodynamic heating in atmospheric entry. Instead, Red Bull held an audience captive and offered them almost nothing but shots of Baumgartner in a suit and Kittinger at the capcom console. Even when the announcer talked about the possibility of Baumgarner entering a spin during his fall, he failed to mention the parallel that Kittinger had proved the graduated parachute system that stabilized a pilot’s fall. He didn’t even mention that Baumgartner’s supersonic jump came on the 65th anniversary of Chuck Yeager’s first supersonic flight.

Red Bull Stratos was an incredible opportunity to teach a huge audience about the past and future exploration of high altitudes and space. Having a scientist or historian narrating the jump would have brought a level of prestige to the event. It could have been less of a publicity stunt and more of an event designed to return scientific data that just happened to be sponsored by a corporation.

I can’t help but think this Stratos jump could have been more powerful and interesting had we learned the context behind the mission. In the end, I have to wonder how much we’re gaining if the public is excited by space exploration but doesn’t understand the technology behind it or why it matters.

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  • Allan Pennant

    Dear crux guest blogger… I agree redbull could have supplied 8 million viewers with more information but calling it a “publicity stunt” is crossing the line considering what was achieved. Putting what was achieved aside, he could have tumbled as well as flat spun more than he did and the result could have been him passing out from the pressure on the way down.

  • Allan Pennant

    Just because more info was not told, that does NOT make it a “publicity stunt”.

  • Rory

    There will always be nay sayings from nobodies who are jealous of people who actually do interesting things. In this world, there are those that DO, and those who DON’T. In their envy, those that don’t will never miss a chance to write something negative about those who do.

  • David

    “He didn’t even mention that Baumgartner’s supersonic jump came on the 65th anniversary of Chuck Yeager’s first supersonic flight.”

    He did mention it relatively early into the ascent. Not that this changes much.

  • Rose

    I missed his big jump because I got bored. I watched a lot of Curiosity’s landing because they did some interesting interviews; the time of night it happened is the only thing that kept me from watching the whole thing: I feel asleep. If Red Bull had been more aware of their opportunity and gave a production like you suggest, I would have stayed with them the full 2 hours.

    I wonder if you could set up a consulting firm for corporations who are just starting to explore science and space (for whatever reason) so that the next science publicity stunt could actually be entertaining and informative.

    Thanks, R

  • Ed

    Do your research. Go to redbullstratos.com (which is where the event was hosted) and there is plenty of information and facts. And it was “The Edge Of Space”, not “Space”. The whole Stratos mission was to gather scientific data, it was just funded by Red Bull.

  • http://gilzow.com gilzow

    Did you even watch the event? They DID mention it being the anniversary of Chuck Yeager’s first supersonic flight. Numerous times. They DID talk about Joe’s jump and what he was trying to accomplish, the struggles he went through, and why he was so vital to this jump. To me this reads as though you watched the HIGHLIGHTS video, and visited the website.

    You are correct in that he did not jump from space and that this jump is in no way comparable to jumping out of the ISS. But at 120K feet, more than 99% of our atmosphere was beneath him.

    But the jump IS important in helping to further develop emergency abort systems for launch programs.

  • Mark R.

    Thanks and well said! Red Bull blew a great opportunity to educate.

  • Rene Väli

    “He didn’t even mention that Baumgartner’s supersonic jump came on the 65th anniversary of Chuck Yeager’s first supersonic flight.”
    This was mentioned during the broadcast.

  • Jon Boyer

    You make some great points here. But if Red Bull spent the entirety of Baumgartner’s ascent talking about Kittenger’s history, you would have nothing to write about in this article. And let us remember that what Kittenger did at 1960 was most likely a classified military exercise not made public until many many years later. I think it is sad that the only reason people like you are in a miff over this while searching for shortcomings of the project, is because it was paid for by a soft drink company. I for one think it is a great achievement that a soft drink company spent the money on something that could possibly, for reasons we may not yet understand or know, advance aerospace safety and or travel. Then again I’m not a former PR agent or science buff so what do I know?

  • http://wineink.blogspot.cz Stewart Moore

    Meow…Cat got your milk, Discovery?…or just the BBC & Nat Geo??

  • http://cafematty.com Matty

    Even if it they did NOTHING to educate or made no attempt to gather any useful data….

    IT’S RED BULL… They do…..things…. for no reason… all the time..

  • Dan

    If you watched the whole thing (prep, ascent, descent), a lot of this stuff was covered. I mean they had 2+ hours of nothing really happening that they had to talk during.

    They mentioned the Chuck Yeager anniversary multiple times, talked extensively about Kittinger, his jump, etc.

    Were you watching with the commentary muted (that was an option for the live stream on the website)?

  • Dan

    PS. The project #spacejump is a much more useful hashtag than #reallyhighbutnotevenhalfwaytospacejump.

    Was it a publicity stunt? Of course it was. Does that make it any less awesome? Not in my book.

    Someone has to foot the bill.

  • Brian D.

    You are only partially correct. I didn’t catch the live event, but I’ve been fascinated by the whole thing after hearing about it, and as such, I’ve been learning on my own about lots of things you’ve mentioned (which is how I arrived at this article).

    You can nay-say all you want, but this “publicity stunt” is more than that. It is about reigniting the spark of space exploration in a generation that has seen more NASA budget cuts than actual space exploits.

    So while the event may have been more tailored for entertainment, the fact is, millions of people watched a historic event take place instead of Jersey Shore reruns, and I would take that as a win for science any day.

  • http://www.redbullstratos.com Chris

    Have you not even visited the http://www.redbullstratos.com site? This was an amazing accomplishment by a “Privately Funded” event. Sounds to me like your just upset a Government did not do it (Not to say NASA has not gone way further. I love NASA). This is a project that most of the world is now aware of and guess what…. They got their brand out. Mission Accomplished! Way to go Redbull and Felix. GREAT WORK. To the Edge Of Space. What a view!

  • Jenny

    There is a real purpose to this testing. It was conducted near Virgin America’s Space Port. I would imagine they would want an emergency escape option when they begin taking civilians up there. http://spaceportamerica.com/

  • Jcamilo

    I agree they could have made it way more important and relevant, than just selling a drink.

  • Anton

    I hear what your saying (I missed the whole thing, Dammit!) but they probably didn’t do through all of that on air because there’s going to be a documentary which some other company payed lots of money to claim the rights to…

  • gene-o

    By describing a “flat spin” as “It would be like rolling down a hill really fast but without the hill”, Ms. Teitel has done what she complains about Red Bull doing in her article. Rolling down a hill rotates your body “sideways” on an axis extending from your head to your groin. A flat spin rotates your body “lengthwise” on an axis that goes perpendicular through your belly and back. If you look closely you can see this flat spin in the video of the fall, and you’ll see that the direction is not at all like “rolling down a hill”. So Ms. Teitel, if you want to trash red bull, look first to your own metaphors.

  • http://wral.com Tony Rice

    Saying this was the edge of space isn’t accurate either. Whether you use the old Air Force definition (50 miles) or the more current definition of 62 miles, either way, Baumgartner was less than halfway to “space”.

    I too wish the opportunity to educate about the atmosphere, aeronautics and exploration was better used here.

    Adventure, science and education can go together but there has to be a conscious effort. Remember what Adam Savage says “The difference between science and screwing around, is writing it down”

  • http://mfwright.com/30Kjumps.html Michael Wright

    Publicity stunt? Ok maybe it’s was just a skydive but 115,000 ft higher than typical skydiver jumps. I feel the author just doesn’t get it and same for everyone that degenerates the space program because it doesn’t fit some kind of narrow business plan. I know that space suit technology got a boost because someone paid David Clark co. a lot of money and Felix used the suit in actual conditions (and not some PPT slide). Maybe Redbull wasted money on this and maybe not, nobody may know for certain but will look back on this many years from now and realize how difficult to fly a balloon that can carry a heavy load to such altitudes. And then there was a actual pressure capsule built and put through the paces (and it is not CGI). This is a mighty accomplishment that took many people years to make happen. Only criticism I have is it is done by a private company so all data and photos are not public domain (unlike NASA which is chartered to disseminate as much information on their activities as possible). Perhaps they could have presented better but it sure beats almost all the same ol’ tired themes on TV these days. So stop treating every endeavour like a vending machine where you put money in and get something out RIGHT NOW. The real world don’t work that way. Felix and many others know about this, and I like that Redbull was willing to spend their money on this program.

  • Mike McC

    The mission was called RED BULL STRATOS! Not space jump. And if most people did their research and followed the stratos site for the last 2 plus years, they would have learned many facts about the past before this legendary mission came about. And lastly, Red Bull has its hand in almost ALL EXTREME SPORTS, I.E. BMX, skateboard, snowboard, surfing, INDY CAR, NASCAR and many more sports that get them tons of money and publicity. I dont think the company needed any ” publicity stunt” to get the brand name out there.

  • John Dean

    Those dummies at Red Bull…

    4.6 billion cans sold in 2011.
    ;-)

  • Ty

    Even if it was a stunt, you’re glossing over the human element. At least Felix had it in him to do the jump. It feels like there are less pioneering people in the world now, they all just sit at desks and gripe about it like you do.

  • Denis D

    1. No one from the program mentioned jumping from space but from the edge of space
    2. They did mention details about Kittinger’s flight.
    3. It was also mentionned that a 2-hour documentary would be put together to go further into the project back to when it first started, ie 7 years ago.
    4. Go check the official website and you will see that a lot more has been explained regarding the goals of the program.

    Just because you have not done so yourself, does not necessarily mean that those million people watching, did not looked more into that project other than the jump itself. People are not idiots and a vast majority of them understand that those million bucks were not spent for the sole purpose of giving the damn man his fix of adrenaline!

  • Jason P.

    There’s more to life than education.

  • Ed Borinsky

    “It’s not entirely clear what applications this data would have, like the research on “passenger/crew exit from space.” ”

    Betcha Richard Branson was looking at this. He’ll need to provide emergency egress methods for Virgin Galactic’s space tourism (likee any other airline business)….else if something goes wrong witht he craft, what’s to become of the passengers?

  • Brian Too

    I definitely get the feeling that this whole event was just a high end thrill event. From the Red Bull sponsorship, to the lame reason Baumgartner gave for doing it, to the fact that it had been done before.

    Kittinger was the pioneer. They get brownie points for including him in the event. Otherwise this was just a stunt man jumping buses for a crowd.

    Do they really have any credibility to suggest this is research for an emergency space landing system? Where’s NASA? JAXA? ESA? SpaceX? Anyone with any need or interest? What have they done to address shedding the energy of an orbiting body?

    There’s your answer.

  • Kathy

    Maybe you should jump next time…

  • Malcolm

    Where is the capsule now.

  • Larry Vortex

    Fair points but I think they were saving all this background info for the BBC documentary coming soon.

  • David

    With all due respect to everyone on this Red Bull Stratos project, you have 50 years worth of new technology advancements and you can’t break the record for the longest free fall?

  • JD

    Okay, let me see, uhh, Brian Too says this was just a “high end thrill event, and Felix was “just a stunt man jumping buses”, interesting analogy, pretty dumb, but interesting, i mean Bri-man, would you step off that step? Hmm, let me answer for you, no of course not. oh by the way you probably didnt pay attention or even watch, NASA personnel where at mission control for observation.

    The article writer and Mark seem to think the project was bad because no one educated the youtube viewers on the history and purpose of the event DURING the event. And as a result, this was just a publicity stunt. Gotta disagree with the concept, the website has plenty of information, oh and if you want more on history of flight, skydiving, space exploration we have this thing called the internet, oh, wait the millions watching this event on the internet didnt know they could actually educate themselves via the internet. Rose maybe a little more coffee could have kept you awake, but really, bored? Spell it out, you were just not interested and that is ok. Maybe one of the many pro football games could have kept your interest.

    Some of the logic used by the writer and commentators here suggest to me that maybe we should not explore the depth of the oceans, heck we have already been there, or why do people still go to Mt Everest, people go there every year. Joe had already jumped from altitude, why do it again?

    i watched this event on the internet and TV, the writer says having a scientist or historian narrating the event would have brought “a level of prestige to the event.” i am pretty sure i heard the next best thing narrate the event, Robert Haggar, former science reporter for NBC news and he did a pretty good job.

    i have plenty more to say but i wll finish by again refering to the bus jumper statement. the spirit of exploration lives in the people like Felix Baumgarten, Joe Kittinger and hundreds of others. From skydivers, to scuba divers, to pilots and the support teams of engineers and scientists that work on these projects. Even if you want to label these risk takers as “bus jumpers”, we need them, more of them if we plan to eventually get off of this planet and do some real exploring. Oh and one more thing, this team did prove that the human body, with the properly human designed suit, can survive going faster than the speed of sound.

  • Mike

    This is the stupidest piece of literature ever.

    They’ve got more than 20 different videos about what they’re doing. Why they’re doing etc…

    You managed to be bothered to write two paragraphs on “it not technically being space”…

    Stupidest thing I’ve ever read and if you watched it or actually followed this (like most people did) you’d realised the amount of multimedia they offered to educate people.

    This is the first time EVER that a human has broken the speed of sound. A feat which was posed as a 70% change that it would result in a sonic boom removing skin/suit… They took the chance for science and proved it wrong.

    If you can’t understand what actual merit this has. You can’t really understand much. Publicity will come from it? Sure, why not. They deserve it. They put in the time/research/resources… They should be rewarded as a company. This isn’t tax payer money.

    #moron

  • http://Clusterballoon.com Jonathan

    I also wonder if you really oriented yourself to this full project before writing your piece, or if you just watched highlights, or maybe just the jump material– and not everything else that came out– and continues to come out– from the project.

    I would argue that one of the greatest educational components comes from the spark of interest that comes from a person being excited about the event. When people become excited about a project like this, it inspires the best to go and look for more information. Really, a flash of inspiration– just seeing a flight like this– can translate into a genuine interest in aviation, aerostation, science, and can lead interested people into fields where they will study the topics in detail.

    I am really curious if you watched the entire broadcast. Did you hear them talk about the “near space environment”? Did you hear them talk about the Armstrong line, and who Dr. Armstrong was, and what a space equivalent environment means, from a physiological perspective? Are you educated on the topic? It seems you are not, because you reference international agreed upon conventions for the beginning of ‘space’—without discussing a space equivalent environment that exists from a physiological perspective. They talked about this as the system crossed the Armstrong line—introducing that term to many new listeners.

    You argue that Red Bull did nothing to teach the context behind the jump. Um, you DID notice that they brought Col. Kittinger on board for this, right? That is involving living history, and connecting a current event to something that came before— an incredibly valuable use of historical context. If they didn’t care about history or tradition, they absolutely could have done this without Kittinger. Instead, they brought him on board—connecting the present to the past.

    Also, they did not ‘overshoot’ their altitude target. They managed expectations and communicated a target while maintaining a private goal of exceeding it. With your background in PR, you should know that if they said they were going to 130,000 and only went to 128,000, it would be seen as a failure. It is much better to communicate a target of 120,000 feet, and then exceed your published goals.

    Also: you do *not* accidently overshot and go to 128,000 when targeting 120,000. The difference between 128,000 and 120,000 is oceans apart– not to be mistaken for the same altitude increase at a lower altitude. To illustrate, look at the 5.3 million cubic foot envelope they used to get to 97,145 feet. Compare that to the 29.47 million cubic foot envelope to get to 128,000. To get that last ‘little bit’ of altitude takes a tremendously larger endeavor, and larger envelope!

    You talk about a flat spin. Did you not hear the jumper discuss this topic in the post-jump interviews and press conference? After seeing him tumble head-over-heals before becoming stable, and then hearing him talk about it, don’t you think this topic was introduced to a large audience new to the topic?

    Also: you are treating the entire campaign as if it were the the one 2-hour web event. What about all that came before, and all that follows? What about the BBC documentary that is to follow in about a month? From a PR perspective, it is a home run. From an educational perspective, it is far and away more than anyone could expect from a soda company.

    And really—when was the last time a soda company brought an item with this much technological and scientific interest to the public? Coke? Pepsi? Monster? No. Only Red Bull Stratos did it.

    This isn’t a NOVA program; a soda company caused this item of great inspiration and interest to be brought to a wide audience. Instead of spending money on an insipid super bowl commercial, they really connected with a large, multi-generational audience.

    I am a pilot, rated to fly gas balloons, and I am not affiliated with Red Bull or the Red Bull Stratos project.

  • Rick

    You make some valid points, but at the same time, you have incorrect claims that others have pointed out. You evidently didn’t watch the entire event, so you don’t know everything you claim to. Yes, they could have done more, but the same is true for you Ms Teitel.

  • Bob T Diver

    We just witnessed something amazing, awe inspiring, scientifically cool and instead of celebrating it as such, you choose to crap all over it? I went online to find out more information about Kittinger’s jump and, while I found it here, its tarnished by your own publicity stunt of a title. You could have just added the back story and left out the sensationalism.

  • John

    No need to talk trash about the event. I would like to see you jump from up there. Red bull supports extreme sports athletes, they aren’t science geeks. They made the jump exciting to watch. Also they never called it a “jump from space”, they said from the edge of space.

  • Greg L.

    Not to be blunt, but since when Red Bull is a “research and educational” company? Yes, it was a publicity stunt and and it precisely what it was meant to do – generate publicity and brand awareness for Red Bull.

    Had this been a NASA project all the points made in the article would have been perfectly valid. But it wasn’t.

    Wasted opportunity to educate? Perhaps, but then how would you feel if someone said your kid’s 10th birthday party (which you’ve organised and paid for) is a wasted opportunity to educate the gathered guests about global warmning?…

    If governments keep space research and exploration low on their budgetary list of priorities, you can’t really expect the private companies to take on the “research and education” duties.

  • Garrett Sommerfeld

    awfully written bit, the author needs to get a new job

  • Max Roy Depaepe

    very interesting atricle. your idea of what the event could have been did indeed sound much more captivating!

  • Representative

    Badly ill informed blog, as someone has already commented Red Bull always said the ‘edge of space’ and it was the public who used the #spacejump.

    If you also wait longer than a few days, Red Bull are not releasing the full extent of the data for another 2 weeks because they have to do a careful analysis of it. There has to be a required verification from the regulatory bodies, this is much the same with the medical data. Post analysis of the data will quickly dismiss your somewhat ignorant suggestion that the jump was ‘just a publicity stunt’.

  • Outis P. Dowd

    Considering that private companies such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are exploring the capitalistic boundaries of the nongovernmental aerospace race, it doesn’t seem wholly out of place that the Red Bull Stratos project would have a large element of publicity involved. However, I suggest that to call it “just a publicity stunt” is an unduly harsh oversimplification.

    Was it a jump from space, or the edge of space? Nope, it came up about 38 miles shy of the edge of space, and about 26 miles shy of astronaut status. So I have to agree with you there.

    Did it “transcend human limits”? Well, it did break three records: highest manned balloon flight, highest free-fall parachute jump, and, let us not forget the most significant milestone (pending verification, of course), the first human to break the sound barrier without any kind of propulsion system. Considering that a human was involved in all three of these things — particularly in breaking the sound barrier — I’m going to have to say, “yes,” and side with a Red Bull on this one: human limits transcended.

    Did Red Bull squander an excellent opportunity to put the jump into “context” and to educate the viewer about the significance of Kittinger’s historic jump? Okay, you got me there. They squandered the opportunity miserably. You’re absolutely right; had a scientist and/or historian narrated the jump, it most definitely would have been far more powerful and interesting. However, Kittinger’s participation in the project did lend a significant amount of gravitas to the whole affair, and, by association, helped to bring at least a little bit of context to the project.

    Are Red Bull’s stated objectives of pushing the boundaries of technology, particularly spacesuit technology, completely valid? I really couldn’t say one way or the other. It certainly seemed to keep Felix alive and happy. (Sorry; I couldn’t resist.)

    Rather than pooh-poohing the jump as being just a publicity stunt, and pointing the crooked finger of condemnation for the lack of context, I suggest that the majority of viewers would instead praise Red Bull, the Discovery Channel and other media, for the opportunity to see this historic jump. More than that, it is hard to imagine how viewing such a jump would not inspire the imaginations and desires of many of the young people today. Even within the heart of this 49-year-old, who can recall watching many of the Apollo missions (including Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon), many of the STS missions, and more recently — and perhaps more pertinently — the flight of SpaceShip One, the middle-aged wings of inspiration and desire once again took tentative flight, and for a brief moment I imagined that I too could perhaps achieve something as lofty.

    Every time I watch the jump I find it to be inspiring, and it restores in me a little bit of faith in the powers of human endeavor.

  • Anthony

    Truth is “Amazing Skydive” as a head line gets lost in the Google search among the many other positive reviews and comments. Speak negatively and your voice will be heard clearly(and your article found) easily.

  • David

    Ed says:
    >And it was “The Edge Of Space”, not “Space”.

    The “Edge of Space” is rather well defined as the Kármán Line at 100km. 39km is not the edge of space. Nowhere close it.

    >Do your research.
    Right back at you.

  • Tony

    Well, and there you have it: the so-called scientific community debating over the validity of the Red Bull Stratos “Mission”. Not only it was expected by the Red Bull Marketing Team, it was encouraged – you’re talking about Red Bull, and that’s what Red Bull wants. Other than that, NASA was the first to congratulate the Red Bull Stratos Team for their Mission’s success and to sustain that the RBS Mission would potentially provide them with valuable data they could exploit in underway studies and projects. So, did Red Bull buyout NASA as well? Leave them be.

  • http://www.twitter.com/ga2re2t Garrett

    gilzow says
    > But the jump IS important in helping to further develop emergency abort systems for launch programs.

    Not useful for any current or planned launch programs. Altitudes and speeds are completely different for spacecraft, whether suborbital or orbital.
    It was a cool jump, but don’t get fooled into thinking it was a research program.

  • Andrew

    A documentary has been made to fulfill the education piece, something that was not prevalent back in the 1960′s.

  • Greg

    Cheer up, Amy. It was an awesome event that we all loved to watch. Regardless of the detail that the narrators went into (which was more than you described), the jump sparked worldwide interest and the news about the jump was a refreshing break from the normal doom and gloom. Personally, the story motivated me to do something… anything. It lifted my spirit and amazed me how awesome we are as humans. I did enjoy your article. However, you could have (an did to some extent) focussed on giving us the history lesson that you think we all missed. Of course it was a publicity stunt (no brainer there)… and it was a BRILLIANT one.

  • James

    I agree that a scientist narration would have been great, but overall, I thought it was the best thing I had seen for a long long time.

  • Greg

    The irritated historian makes a valid point. Joe Kittinger jumped from a helium balloon on a Captain’s salary with no fanfare, but didn’t the military intentionally keep things like this classified? Such classified projects are probably the reason why people flock to New Mexico to see alien spacecrafts in the sky… From My prespective Red Bull Stratos was a HUGE SUCCESS for the following reasons. This stirred up a huge ammount of interest in space at a time when the Shuttles are being decommisioned. The data that was collected will help advance the technology that kept Felix alive and will be used for future astronauts. (Does something like this make it a feasible idea that you could launch a space capsule into space after it has been carried to a near weightless environment by a helium balloon? Less fuel at a time when Energy costs are getting rediculous?) And lastly, I had no idea who Joe Kittinger before Red Bull Stratos. Why should a biography be done on a person that is not jumping today? Evough coverage was given on Joe Kittinger to spark interest and allow people to do thier own research. A google search for “Joe Kittinger” will give anyone the historic information that you believe should have invaded on Felix Baumgartner’s achievment.

  • http://www.shopfastlane.com Mike L.

    I agree with all the comments and the article. Most importantly, it appealed to everyone from the scientific community to the entertainment community. Anyone that watched this event from start to finish (as I did) can tell you that we learned a great deal, were thoroughly entertained and absolutely can’t wait for the BBC or Discovery specials to get that additional information that we may or may not be craving. KUDOS to Baumgartner and his team for affiliating with Red Bull for their economic prowess and for adding Kittinger to the team. As far as I can tell, they did all the right things and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Mine-It was awesome!

  • Jk

    Hahahahaha are you guys kidding me? Your really going to sit there and pick apart people’s hard for over the last 5 or so years?!?! Get a hobby

  • http://www.fabulousrocketeers.com John

    As a child of the space race era, former sport skydiver, and one who has dreamed of making a jump like this one (really), I enjoyed every second of the admittedly bland presentation.

    But, yes, I think it was a publicity stunt first, scientific research a very distant second.

    World record seeking skydivers have a long history of underwriting their exploits with good old-fashioned sponsorship. My brother was one of several hundred skydivers who took the King of Thailand’s money to pay for their freefall formation world record — all under the guise of putting on a show for the king’s birthday. Hey, whatever it takes to pay for your expensive world record. I understand that. But I do roll my eyes more than a little bit when I see Red Bull trying to emphasize the science and research aspects of this, yes, lovely stunt.

    I’d probably tattoo Red Bull onto my face for a one-way ride in that capsule. Guess I’m just different.

  • Georgia

    I also think that you’re selling 8 million people short. While waiting for the balloon to go up, we spent most of the time reading up on Baumgartner, Kittinger, and all the history and science behind what was going on. Just because the announcer didn’t spell things out explicitly didn’t mean that 8 million people learned nothing about science or history on Sunday.

    Also, while it totally was a stunt and I do agree that there wasn’t much science to be learned from it, it still got a lot of people excited about space (although he was still in the atmosphere) and things like supersonic travel, high-altitude flight, etc.

    Stunts aren’t always bad. While there are great scientific reasons to explore the Earth and space, a lot of exploration occurs because it’s there and because we can! (Think climbing Mt Everest, going to the poles, etc.) A lot of early expeditions didn’t learn much other than show what we can do and pave the way for more scientific expeditions in the future.

  • John

    You clearly did not watch nor attempt to navigate even one link on the http://www.redbullstratos.com landing page (where the jump was hosted).

    You just lost credibility for Discover Magazine as an uninformed, biased journalist.

  • BT

    BBC/Nat Geographic have filmed a documentary – perhaps you will see the things you are looking for when it is broadcast

  • Tobias Hommerich

    I could not write it any better. Its so true that it hurts.Thank you so much for this article-I would personally pay you a thousand bucks if I could, because you hit the nail on the head so perfectly!

  • Thomas

    As a German I watched the jump on austrian television (servus tv) which hold exclusive rights, for instance they did the first interview with Baumgartner back on the the airfield.

    The whole day was dedicated to Baumgartner and his space jump giving facts to us viewers all day long ! They talked about everything: rocket science, general physics, history, the technical view point, joe kittinger. I’ve learned so much, especially due to expert guests (former astronauts) and their opinion about it. Truely fascinating.

    In my opinion it’s not up to Red Bull to create and determine the tv programm covering the event.

    As far as I know BBC broadcasted Baumgartners jump for the non-german-speaking ppl among us. You should blame them for missing the opportunity to speak about science and all the background attached to it. It’s not Red Bulls fault.

  • Charley

    the amount of education and info on the site is extensive. just because the data doesnt meet your research goals. doesnt mean its invalid. also there will be a lot more info to come when the full bbc documentary is released. it sounds like you’re just trying to be controversial in order to drum up more readership. for shame

  • tom rogers

    This is a great article and I fully agree with the author that Red Bull could have done things a lot better for science and our space exploration programs’ future.

    After seeing Neil Degrasse Tyson expound yet again about how dire is the need for us to find our competitive nature again, this had the potential to be a part of that impetus. Not against each other, but in our contest to learning and “conquering” space and our place in it.

  • Kevin

    Our government is run by corporations. Publicity stunts orchestrated by our governments sugar daddies are only going to become more common. Don’t expect an educational moment. Those moments are gone. Education is not in our countries business model.

  • Way

    It was an awesome jump. Don’t try and dismiss it as anything less. Amy Shira Teitel is just a bitter historian.

  • Cfen

    We now have corporate sponsorship. This is the difference between government funded projects and corporate ones. If NASA tests a new launch platform, we won’t hear about it because our taxes have already paid for it, but if Redbull wants to put a man in mars it will get more hits than any other news story because they need to pay for it. Felix is the man today, but there will always be men like joe who we never hear about. If stratos hadn’t happened how many of you would know about Joe? Actually I don’t think he would care.

  • Steven

    Seems kinda weird that we’re all surprised and upset that a company, whose primary goal is to convince us that a beverage of dubious nutritional value is the nectar of the gods, would engage in a publicity stunt. Duh!! For several days, they held the rapt attention of several million people worldwide – I’d say they did exactly what they set out to do. If they accomplished something that happens to have some redeeming social value in the process, so be it, but let’s not be naive here.

    When we as a society decide that these sorts of endeavors are not worth our taxpayer dollars, then our governments will no longer pursue them. From that point on, only private entities will continue to “push the envelope,” and then only if there is something in it for them. So let’s come down off the high horse about the educational opportunity that Red Bull squandered. Such was not their intent.

  • Anu Ojha

    My own opinion (from a physicist/space industry/skydiving perspective) is that the project will provide valuable data for inflight egress during ascent and descent phases of suborbital space missions. It’s not pertinent to orbital escape solutions, true – but was never touted as such. My personal analysis from April, after the first test jump from 71500ft is available here: http://news.uk.msn.com/blog/the-space-blog.aspx?page=2

  • Anu Ojha

    In answer to Brian’s post above – the medical director for the mission is Dr Jonathan Clark – well known in aerospace medicine circles as one of the world’s leading authorities in high-altitude and space medicine. He was Flight Surgeon for a number of shuttle missions and is now (I think) a Professor at Baylor. His wife died on STS-107.

  • Tony Mach

    And you are all forgetting to mention Yevgeni Nikolayevich Andreyev and Pyotr Ivanovich Dolgov – in Moscow they insist that Andreyev was traveling for 4 minutes 30 seconds before he open his parachute, 10 seconds longer than Baumgartner’s jump.
    www rg ru/2012/10/16/rekord.html

    Which would mean that Baumgartner broke three records.

  • Jeff

    I could not disagree more with what this viewpoint likely written from the quiet safety of a couch! With all due respect…..I am tired of our youth being subjected to role models being most often over paid athletes or rap stars. This man encompasses the adventurous spirit that we as a people have not witnessed collectively in such spectacular form in a long time. To have such a cinical attitude and to view his accomplishments as nothing more than a publicity stunt is nothing short of embarassing. This is victory for a private company that pulled it off with far more finesse than a government funded project…..and a moral victory for Felix and an entire sub-culture that looks up to him in showing that no matter your background, courage and determination make anything possible. Redbull’s self promotion was so transparent in this event it was hardly noticed; a far departure from the grotesque amount of marketing during ANY professional sporting event. We also don’t need a public science experiment covered live. We KNOW what gravity does. We have needed a public display of just sheer uncompromisung courage for no real good reason and Felix along with Redbull delivered it in spades.

  • Joseph D

    Honestly, this seems like an article that’s purposely contrarian in order to drum-up page views and comments. It seems to have worked.

  • http://www.21stcentech.com Len Rosen

    I never watched because I saw it as a publicity stunt to advertise an energy drink. In that sense it accomplished its task. I didn’t see the science value. Nor was there much in the way of new technology although it was mentioned in the pre-press publicity that the spacesuit was a new design. Well considering the fogging issue I’m wondering if the design passed muster or not. All in all it made a splash on Internet TV and in the Internet Age and the world of social media, linking your brand to an event is the best way to get exposure.

  • alex a.

    I think the above article by Amy Shira Teitel is superficial, misleading and unjust. I completely disagree that it was nothing but a publicity stunt. The 5 year preparation for this event was going on without any huge news flashes, and just a few weeks before there has been publications in the newspapers,web news etc., and specifically about the scientific aspect of the jump, the data it would help gather etc. Did she miss all that? The only reason the event attracted 8 million viewers on-line (including myslef and my family) is because people had an opportunity to learn about beforehand. Additionally, redbullstratos.com website provided a lot of good information about the mission for the general public. So, I would like to ask this Amy Shira Teitel – does she think people are stupid, lazy and ignorant, and were watching it just for the reasons they go to circus? Well, yes, that was one of them – the guy did what nobody else on this planet has never done yet. However, what Amy Shira Teitel is doing in her article is just another forgotten, lacking self-esteem and trying to get attention journalist raining on someones parade! Nothing new under the sun really! Congrats on the complete mediocracy!

  • okie5

    BooHoo,they didn’t do it like you wanted.

  • Jerry

    I totally agree with the author. Nothing new was learned here in the science field and in the publics knowledge of its historical significance. The only way to bump this up a notch is to have a man go up in a rocket and have him return without the rocket. This would help develope some serious technology.

  • Brian Too

    @24. JD,

    Kinda snide comments there, JD.

    When you assert that they proved the human body can go faster than the speed of sound, it reminds me of something. Back in the early days of automobiles there were many people who insisted that the “human body cannot withstand going 60 miles per hour”, or words to that effect.

    This was based upon a stark misunderstanding of the difference between speed and acceleration. Not to mention that it just sounds quaint.

    Your assertion sounds equally flawed and quaint to me. It is also the basis for Baumgartner’s lame justification for doing the event.

    I don’t deny him the opportunity to perform his thrill ride. However if he impacts the ground at supersonic speeds some day I’ll shed no tears. Not because I mean him harm. Simply because he died doing what he wanted to do, and it was unnecessary. His choice.

  • Scribbler

    One word: Advertising.

    Two words: Sour grapes.

    Three words: Get a clue

    Four words: Suck it up, sunshine.

    Emoticon: ;)

  • Tony

    To be fair, agree with Amy. Except it was a publicity stunt no matter what happened…………. I almost fell asleep so I left the channel a few times during the 2 hours watching them counting the accent by the feet and testing the equipment and switches. There is plenty of opportunity to make it lively by filling in the history and educational info like they do in History, Discovery and Military channels, ball games and other events. I never switch channels in those interesting programs.

  • Queenidog

    Like one writer said, “someone has to pay the bills”. If NASA could get Red Bull to deliver materials to the Space Station, and only put their name on the rocket, they likely would! That said, Kittinger was part of Baumgartner’s team and I read that Kittinger was the “Capcon” for Baumgartner, the only one to talk to him when he was in the capsule. NASA and others were very interested in the science behind the jump. I only wish that the Red Bull team had published all the science they were doing, the instrumentation (other than 11 cameras) that were used. How was the jump speed determined? What was the air density? What was the speed of sound at that altitude?

  • Chris

    The broadcast of this event was more lame than I could have possibly imagined. The author is right on the money. Give us some more background, some scientific facts, anything!! They turned something that could’ve been very cool into 2+ hrs of boring.

  • cdobbs

    All the author of this trajic article had to do was go to RedBullStratos.com to get all the information she says was not presented to the public (it was). Its just a shame that an energy drink now has a better space program than the NASA.

  • Pvm

    Why Red Bull’s Stratos Jump Was Just a Publicity Stunt—and Only Partially Successful

    The jump surely was a publicity stunt, but it was surely a complete success. We all know Felix survived. All the systems did work as expected, especially his suit. A lot more could have been mentioned about the jump, the support systems etc, but the commentary was surely made for the average Joe in mind and not for a science writer.

    They did not publicise the event as usually as the fanfare was not called for and might have been totally out of place if something had gone wrong.

    It was the best privately funded near space launch ever. Hats off to Redbull.

    I am waiting for a similar ‘Virgin Space tour’ event or a ‘Nike space walk’ cause in the wake of cuts in government spending, going private will be the only option for space exploration.

  • http://Clusterballoon.com Jonathan

    About space, and near-space, Kittinger wrote this in the December 1960 issue of National Geographic, in the article “The Long, Lonely Leap”: “Aerodynamically, space begins about 120 miles from earth. Physiologically and psychologically, however, it starts only 12 miles up, where survival requires elaborate protection against an actual space environment.” He presents the argument that the high-altitude environment is a space-equivalent from a the perspective of the human body.

  • Ken crepeau

    Seven years mostly in the noise level is a serious commitment for a “stunt.” If nothing else the command and control aspects by a civilian operation were serious innovations that will need to be done routinely before any real value can be earned. Having been there, my initial response was that this was a professional as NASA events.

  • http://www.fabulousrocketeers.com John

    PS — Re: what happens to the human body that is exposed to supersonic speeds outside of a vehicle. It’s not a total mystery.

    If you want to split hairs:

    Long before this jump there have been at least three humans who briefly exceeded the speed of sound outside of a vehicle, two of them survived.

    They are three fighter pilots who ejected from jets while the jet was going supersonic (One was from F-100, and two ejected simultaneously from an F-15) . I think there may also be some SR-71 stories also, but not sure if those losses were supersonic by the time ejection occurred.

    Some or all of the seven astronauts of the STS-107 mission may have ejected at supersonic speeds at some point of the vehicle breakup, but were likely dead before that occurred. (Dr. Clark, a NASA doctor, and Red Bull Stratos team member, lost his astronaut wife in that accident)

    Obviously none of these examples qualify as having reached supersonic speeds without a vehicle, so Felix’s jump is quite unique and valid.

    But I have to wonder: would Red Bull share the space suit design and data on the jump with, oh, say, Monster energy drink if they decided to try to break the skydive record?

  • http://www.fabulousrocketeers.com John

    ps– sorry ’bout the typo above. I meant to write “been ejected from” the shuttle during its breakup. I know the shuttles have no ejections systems.

  • Joe L

    This review really blew an opportunity to position the expense and level of commitment that some corporations undertake to attract fans while promoting “exploration of frontiers” or “extreme sports” – and to expose the pragmatic compromise of pursuing positive brand impressions while exposing good people to risk.

    I wonder if the writer ever thought about contacting the producers of the Stratos Project and asking how they felt about this compromise. Or Joe Kittinger, who must have been under the influence of a mind control device.

    It is sad and disturbing that American society places greater emphasis on junk like “energy drinks” and cable television subscriptions than on publicly funded, manned exploration and testing.

    With its factual errors and mischaracterizations of the Stratos project’s web site, the author shakes her finger at Red Bull – as if they were somehow disingenuous about a profit-oriented agenda. This attitude is about as constructive as chastising MTV for not illustrating the full beauty of the Garden State on “The Jersey Shore.”

  • Rob

    Sounds like the author of this article is bitter about something. After reading this, I guess the jump was all for nothing, and completely pointless.

    Get over yourself

  • emkay

    Wow! what a mess of comments, which took me 5-6 minutes to read through. But I learned that no one seems to understand what a “publicity stunt” is..

    “Mayor speaks in downtown park”, “Obummer flies to Cinncinati for fundraiser”, “local TV channel sponsors 2k run for homeless”, “high school newspaper sells advertising to help build new gymnasium”, “famous author has book signing”, “un-famous book author has signing”, ” Eviel Knievel jumps Snake River Canyon on motorcycle”, and “woman writes article on highest balloon jump” are ALL PUBLICITY STUNTS… Anything that deliberately draws attention to a product, service, person, or even a concept or idea is a “publicity stunt”..

    I want my 5-6 minutes back….

  • IW

    Why on Earth (or off it) would Red Bull have the slightest interest in educating people? If they were that interested they would tell people what’s in Red Bull and what it does to your body.

    Rest assured that Red Bull’s only interest is in making money. That’s what corporations do. Have no doubt that they succeeded in their aim; this was huge success for Red Bull.

  • Ted

    All I can say is “I could not disagree more with what this viewpoint”

    It has NOTHING to do with science or whatever,what a firm decides to do with its money.

    And this has NOTHING to do with Felix’s epic success; that is,how Red Bull managed the whole thing,from a media perspective.

  • Scribbler

    Uh, the ingredients are posted on the side of the can/bottle and what it does to the human body is why people buy it. ;)

  • David Sanz

    Whoever wrote this article… didnt do the right homework… didnt even went into the red bull project website… this article is just blah blah blah…

  • http://seolider.org/ Kennith Wellen

    Another issue is that video games are normally serious as the name indicated with the most important focus on understanding rather than leisure. Although, we have an entertainment aspect to keep your young ones engaged, just about every game is normally designed to work towards a specific group of skills or course, such as instructional math or research. Thanks for your posting.

  • David L. Hasse

    Watching the FPS readout during the ascent it was obvious they were way off on their neutral bouyancy calculations, major venting had trouble even slowing him down and had to be repeated several times. They did not account for the sonic, ultrasonic and microwave pressure in the lower atmosphere compressing the bag of helium which as he left the density and multifrequency screaming below resulted in a much greater expansion as he approached the silence of space. Helium has some special properties we’re still discovering, we’re still learning a lot of things that need to be put together.
    Working at Litton Industries in the mid-eighties on microwave ovens gave the water vapor frequency obtained from their newsletter as the target of the magnetron in their ovens and it is clear our atmosphere would be really loud at that and other gas’s and phase transition’s frequencies.
    Loud and ubiquitous, possibly part of our biology and definitely something to be considered in the future.
    It took guts to be that level of pioneer and Felix deserves every kudo he gets.

  • Mike Borg

    Amy Shira Teitel, you clearly didn’t even watch the broadcast, as most of what you claim was not discussed actually was. On top of that, you should be embarrassed for claiming some expertise, “albeit brief,” in marketing, only to display an utter lack of understanding of how marketing actually works. Even if you were correct that Red Bull hadn’t discussed the history of ultra-high jumps or the technical and scientific hurdles that such a jump entails, how would it have been a marketing failure to omit that information? Red Bull is an energy drink. Their marketing is aimed at selling that energy drink. The history and science behind the Stratos jump is completely irrelevant to that end. I think Red Bull showed incredible restraint, considering the money they put into this project, by keeping the corporate noise limited to the use of their name and logo. They deserve kudos for funding such a grand adventure and yet avoiding the temptation to turn the whole thing into a huge “Red Bull gives you wings” commercial.
    The Stratos project worked as a marketing vehicle, at least as far as I’m concerned. Before Stratos I had never consumed a Red Bull. Since then I have, and will continue to do so. It’s as simple as that.

  • CrustyDNAsample

    The value of information in this pee-on-the-parade article isn’t worth peeing on the parade for. What Red Bull, Baumgartner, Kittinger, and the team did was amazing, inspiring, and yes…. scientific.

    If one is to criticize it, one must come up with far better reasons.

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