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Space research becomes an action sport


How about that Felix Baumgartner! Highest jump, fastest free-fall, breaking the sound barrier in just a pressure suit.

And, largest number of live YouTube views: 8 million live viewers, plus three million tweets, including a few cynical ones: “If Red Bull gives you wings, why was he just falling?”

But it was a tremendous feat of courage, and a tremendous feat of marketing for Red Bull, whose stunts don’t always go well.

Flashback to 2009 and base jumper Sean McConkey. He specialized in skiing off cliffs and doing two back flips before opening his chute. His last attempt killed him.

That was one of three fatal accidents that year involving Red Bull athletes.

But Felix – who already has single name status – landed safely, proving that an astronaut could be rescued from a crippled space craft, and that profit-making companies not even in the space business can finance serious space research.

Now, I have to say, listening in on the communications it wasn’t exactly NASA. But there was real science taking place. And it was paid for not by taxpayers, but by people buying an energy drink that by all accounts doesn’t even taste that good.

I’ve never even seen Felix drink it. But that’s the genius of this – he didn’t have to, because plenty of other people will.

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