After another day of weather watching, the Red Bull Stratos
team’s meteorologist pronounced the rest of the week unsuitable for launch and those media who couldn’t stay another week scrambled to find flights home.
Wednesday afternoon found me sitting in the tiny Roswell airport with Jean-Fréderic Dufour,
both of us waiting for our respective flights home. He had spent the afternoon with Baumgartner and the Red Bull team, and Dufour said Felix seemed relaxed and still
confident, unshaken by the near-miss and frustrating delays.
After the five years
of planning, countless delays, a lawsuit, and two test jumps from as high as
96,000 feet, I didn’t doubt it. We would be watching the jump, whenever it
occurred, on the live Internet feed, with millions of others around the world.
As my plane took off and ascended above the clouds, I looked out the window and
thought about how Baumgartner would be jumping from four times this altitude, and then
turned back to my magazine.
These days, it’s easy to be cynical about corporate branding
and sponsored events, and watch companies are as guilty as anyone of participating. Watch
brand names are plastered all over everything from tennis tournaments to
classic boat regattas. But in a world of slashed budgets, unmanned drones, and
Mars rovers, privately-funded explorers are the new breed of heroes who will,
as Tom Wolfe put it, “hang their hide out over the edge.” Watching the skydive
on the live feed on Sunday, all the logos and hype dropped away as quickly as
Baumgartner himself, leaving a man, his parachute, and his guts. As I watched
Fearless Felix step off the edge into the abyss, I couldn’t help but remember
his words to me. “Not good luck. Good skills.”