Felix Baumgartner forced to postpone record-breaking 23-mile skydive

Jump could take place on Thursday at the earliest.

Felix Baumgartner, an Australian daredevil and helicopter pilot, was forced to temporarily abort the 120,000ft sky-dive due to high winds.

The mission, which is sponsored by Red Bull, would break a number of world records, including the highest manned balloon flight and the longest free-fall.

More importantly, the 48-year-old ex-paratrooper was expected to become the first man to ever break the sound barrier (690mph) in free-fall during the 10 minute descent.

"Fearless Felix” had also hoped to shatter the 102,800ft (19.5 miles) milestone set by former US Air Force Colonel Joe Kittinger (now a key member of Baumgartner’s team) in 1960, and looked on course to do so after two successful test runs at 15 and 18 miles in March and July.

But whilst Felix strapped himself into the launch capsule just minutes before take-off, high winds whipped across the 55-storey balloon, forcing mission control to abort.

"That was a total disappointment, honestly. But as long as we have a spare balloon, and as long as we have more launch opportunities, I’m good”, Baumgartner said afterwards.

“We’ve made it so far, there’s no way we’re turning back”, he later declared on the mission’s official twitter feed.

Team spokeswoman Sarah Anderson ruled out a fresh launch attempt until Thursday at the very earliest, but gloomy weather forecasts may push back the launch date further.

The balloon used on Tuesday’s failed attempt is not re-usable, meaning that the team has just one more attempt left, since they only have one $250,000 back-up balloon.

Here’s the video of Joe Kittinger’s awe-inspiring 102,800ft jump in 1960:

Felix Baumgartner prepares to jump 80,000ft during a test jump in March. Photo: Getty/Red Bull

Alex Ward is a London-based freelance journalist who has previously worked for the Times & the Press Association. Twitter: @alexward3000

Photo: Getty
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Leader: History is not written in stone

Statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political.

When a mishmash of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Trump supporters and private militias gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia on 12 August – a rally that ended in the death of a counter-protester – the ostensible reason was the city’s proposal to remove a statue of a man named Robert E Lee.

Lee was a Confederate general who surrendered to Ulysses S Grant at the Appomattox Court House in 1865, in one of the last battles of the American Civil War – a war fought to ensure that Southern whites could continue to benefit from the forced, unpaid labour of black bodies. He died five years later. It might therefore seem surprising that the contested statue of him in Virginia was not commissioned until 1917.

That knowledge, however, is vital to understanding the current debate over such statues. When the “alt-right” – many of whom have been revealed as merely old-fashioned white supremacists – talk about rewriting history, they speak as if history were an objective record arising from an organic process. However, as the American journalist Vann R Newkirk II wrote on 22 August, “obelisks don’t grow from the soil, and stone men and iron horses are never built without purpose”. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that few Confederate statues were commissioned immediately after the end of the war; instead, they arose in reaction to advances such as the foundation of the NAACP in 1909 and the desegregation of schools in the 1950s and 1960s. These monuments represent not history but backlash.

That means these statues have not been politicised by protest; they were always political. They were designed to promote the “Lost Cause” version of the Civil War, in which the conflict was driven by states’ rights rather than slavery. A similar rhetorical sleight of hand can be seen in the modern desire to keep them in place. The alt-right is unwilling to say that it wishes to retain monuments to white supremacy; instead, it claims to object to “history being rewritten”.

It seems trite to say: that is inevitable. Our understanding of the past is perpetually evolving and the hero of one era becomes a pariah in the next. Feminism, anti-colonialism, “people’s history” – all of these movements have questioned who we celebrate and whose stories we tell.

Across the world, statues have become the focus for this debate because they are visible, accessible and shape our experience of public space. There are currently 11 statues in Parliament Square – all of them male. (The suffragist Millicent Fawcett will join them soon, after a campaign led by Caroline Criado-Perez.) When a carving of a disabled artist, Alison Lapper, appeared on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, its sculptor, Marc Quinn, acknowledged its significance. “This square celebrates the courage of men in battle,” he said. “Alison’s life is a struggle to overcome much greater difficulties than many of the men we celebrate and commemorate here.”

There are valid reasons to keep statues to figures we would now rather forget. But we should acknowledge this is not a neutral choice. Tearing down our history, looking it in the face, trying to ignore it or render it unexceptional – all of these are political acts. 

The Brexit delusion

After the UK triggered Article 50 in March, the Brexiteers liked to boast that leaving the European Union would prove a simple task. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, claimed that a new trade deal with the EU would be “one of the easiest in human history” to negotiate and could be agreed before the UK’s scheduled departure on 29 March 2019.

However, after the opening of the negotiations, and the loss of the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority, reality has reasserted itself. All cabinet ministers, including Mr Fox, now acknowledge that it will be impossible to achieve a new trade deal before Brexit. As such, we are told that a “transitional period” is essential.

Yet the government has merely replaced one delusion with another. As its recent position papers show, it hopes to leave institutions such as the customs union in 2019 but to preserve their benefits. An increasingly exasperated EU, unsurprisingly, retorts that is not an option. For Britain, “taking back control” will come at a cost. Only when the Brexiteers acknowledge this truth will the UK have the debate it so desperately needs. 

This article first appeared in the 24 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia