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Planning to jump out of a spacecraft 24 miles above Earth? Don’t forget your PocketLab!

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Submitted by DaveBakker on Tue, 06/20/2017 - 17:53

Exactly 65 years after Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in a Bell X-1 aircraft,Felix Baumgartner did too, but not in an aircraft. He did it by jumping out of one. In a state of the art pressure suit, Baumgartner jumped out of a capsule dangling from a helium balloon that had reached the stratosphere, 24 miles from the surface of the Earth. Before deploying his parachute, Baumgartner reached a top speed of 833.9 mph.

Now, a little over three years after his daredevil jump, a PocketLab sensor is helping patrons at Science World in Vancouver, British Columbia  understand just how incredible and important his jump was. Science World currently hosts the actual capsule and suit from the jump as part of an exhibit on the Red Bull Stratos jump.

We asked Brian Anderson, Program Developer in the Community Engagement department at Science World, about the exhibit and how they were using PocketLab.

How is PocketLab being used at the exhibit?

A lot of the exhibition explores the challenges of staying alive in a high altitude environment with very low air pressure. We use the PocketLab’s Pressure/Altitude feature to show how an altimeter works. The sensitivity of the PocketLab is great – we can have a volunteer carry the PocketLab up a staircase near the demonstration stage and see a very visible change in altitude on the display.

We also demonstrate how an altimeter works at high altitude through ‘faking out’ the PocketLab by putting it in a vacuum chamber. As the pressure in the chamber drops, the pocketlab altimeter reading shoots up to over 10,000 meters in the air.

What could people expect to see if they check out the exhibit?

The Red Bull Stratos exhibition features the original capsule and pressure suit that were used in Felix Baumgartner’s record breaking parachute jump on October 14, 2012.  There is a tremendous amount of information about the research and technology that went into preparations for the jump as well as videos displaying highlights from the jump itself and interviews with the team that made it possible. You can read more information about the exhibition here (  The exhibition will be at Science World until April 26, 2016, the final stop on its tour.

What’s exciting about having the exhibit?

For me, the most exciting thing about the exhibit is hearing the human stories of the people involved.  Beyond Felix himself, the team of engineers and scientists who built the equipment for the jump had to solve so many unique and unusual problems in such creative ways.   Some examples include:

  • The door of the capsule which was not hinged but rolled out of the way and was held closed by nothing but air pressure.
  • The G-Whiz , a device with a built in accelerometer would automatically trigger the drogue parachute to stop Felix from spinning if he experienced more than 3 G’s of acceleration in any one direction for more than 6 seconds
  • The balloon itself which was taller than the Statue of Liberty yet thinner than a dry cleaning bag.


Why was the jump so important?

As commercial space flight looks to become a reality it becomes more important to explore the effects of high altitude and high velocity on the human body to explore ways to bring space tourists home safely in the event of an accident. This jump provided information on how the human body reacts when traveling faster than the speed of sound.

What is your favorite part of the exhibit?

My favorite part of the exhibit is the capsule itself. Looking at that small step that Felix jumped from, so small that your foot will not even fit on it, the toes have to hang over the edge. I try to picture what it would have been like to look down on the earth from 39 km in the air.

Favorite facts

  • The date of the jump was quite accidentally exactly 65 years after Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier in a plane.
  • The length of Felix’s freefall (4 minutes 20 seconds) is longer than the length of Tom Petty’s song “Free Falling”

Are you using PocketLab for anything else? 

We have used it to measure the acceleration of a cocktail shaker when professional bartenders are mixing drinks.  For the future we hope to measure acceleration under platform holding a concrete block when we break it with a sledgehammer while lying on a bed of nails. We have also attempted to measure the speed and acceleration of chickens but have not found a good and humane way to attach the sensor to them.

PocketLab and Felix Baumgartner's capsule