The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 16, 2012

Our View: Fearless and then some

The Joplin Globe

— It felt like a Neil Armstrong moment, didn’t it?

Yet, it wasn’t financed by the taxpayers or directed by NASA, although government scientists were just as spellbound as the 8 million viewers who watched Felix Baumgartner on a live Web feed.

The Austrian-born skydiver stood in the open hatch of a capsule suspended above Earth. Then he jumped 24 miles above Roswell, N.M.

Baumgartner became the first person to go faster than the speed of sound without traveling in a spacecraft or jet. And, he survived, landing on his feet.

“Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are,” an exuberant Baumgartner told reporters.

On the same day as the jump, the U.S. space shuttle Endeavour was heading toward a Los Angeles museum, where it will spend its retirement on display. Baumgartner’s feat lands at the same time the United States has put the brakes on aspects of its space exploration.

What Baumgartner and his privately sponsored dive shows us is there’s still plenty to be learned from our universe, and it certainly doesn’t always have to be the government’s idea.

Baumgartner’s free fall was far more than a stunt or a gimmick. Space agency NASA is eager to improve its spacecraft and spacesuits for emergency escape. We’re sure Sunday’s event will provide the agency with plenty of data. Baumgartner, who has been training for this jump for years, was insistent that there be plenty of camera footage.

Also on Sunday, Chuck Yeager provided the nation with a fitting bookend to Baumgartner’s feat. Yeager, 65 years ago Sunday, became the first man to officially break the sound barrier in a jet. He commemorated that feat on Sunday flying in the back seat of an F-15 Eagle as it broke the sound barrier at more than 30,000 feet above California’s Mojave Desert.

Sunday we were reminded of the vast universe that still must be explored. We believe private ventures, such as Baumgartner’s jump, will be the key to unlocking the secrets of space.