The Red Bull Stratos project did a lot more than drop a man from a balloon at the edge of space. Sure, you’ve got your marketing successes; Red Bull Stratos’ jump is being crowned the king of all social media campaigns, increasing brand exposure by eight million viewers, and establishing the Red Bull as more than just an energy drink – it’s now a lifestyle. Okay, there is the scientific advancement, too. Private space programs have a model to work from, disbanded NASA employees have a future, and it spurred investment from corporations that otherwise would have shunned the space program. We have a handful of smashed world records, to boot. That’s not what we’re most excited about. See, Felix Baumgartner is going to be a textbook name for future generations of daredevils, entrepreneurs, and most importantly – scientists. The scientific community has its inspiration back.
Since Armstrong opened the front door to the landing module in 1969, no event has garnered as much media attention for the scientific community. The buzz surrounding any #hashtag with the words ‘jump, Felix, or Red Bull’ is trending off the charts. Once again, as in ’69, the world of science is pushing the boundaries of what our species can accomplish. Certainly, plopping a rover on Mars is a jaw-dropping achievement, but it was missing that human element. No one sitting watching the YouTube live stream of the 128,000-foot jump was sure that Baumgartner would land on his feet. If they were like me, they weren’t sitting at all, but standing and pacing and wiping their sweaty palms on their jeans, praying Felix could pull himself out of that spin. When his parachute finally opened, the global audience must have sent metric tons of relieved CO2 into the atmosphere when it collectively let out its breath. The fear, uncertainty, and drama was some of the best educational entertainment we’ve seen in years.
How many elementary, high school and university students were watching the feed on October 14th? The inspiration from this project will have lasting effects on our entire scientific community, but most of all on our youth – and the generation of learners who could grow up without a NASA.
That was the point of the Stratos project. The closing of NASA wasn’t an end to the space program. It’s a new beginning for anyone who will take up the challenge. The jump taught us that explorers, daredevils, engineers and marketers all have a place in the cause. Red Bull didn’t give us wings, they gave us a generation of rocket engineers and space junkies. They dropped the gauntlet so that someone else could pick it back up.
Let’s get out there.