SHERIDAN — A Cheyenne-based meteorologist who helped facilitate the highest successful skydive in history appeared as a guest speaker at Wednesday’s Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon at the Holiday Inn.
Don Day addressed an audience of approximately 160 to retell the story of how he helped Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner complete the jump.
Day was one of a team of 300 people that worked on the Red Bull Stratos mission in Roswell, N.M., Oct. 14, 2012.
As the team’s meteorologist, he was charged with the ultimate authority to approve or hold back the mission, based on his estimation of atmospheric conditions. After an aborted launch Oct. 9 of the same year, the team executed the feat three days later.
Baumgartner traveled more than 23 miles into the stratosphere in a helium balloon before free falling for four minutes and 19 seconds in a pressure suit and then deploying his parachute.
During his free fall, he fell so fast, 843 miles per hour, that he became the first person to break the sound barrier without the aid of engine power.
Day said the project served a dual purpose.
“It’s a little bit of marketing, but also a lot of really good science behind it,” he explained, referencing the fact that the mission was named after the energy drink company that provided financial sponsorship for the endeavor in exchange for worldwide advertising.
Day provided a brief history of previous attempts to break established skydiving records that began in the 1950s.
Decades of experiments provided clues about how a human body would survive in the low-pressure atmosphere that exists at high altitudes.
However, there were many unknown factors about how Baumgartner would fare the fall, especially when breaking the sound barrier, and his successful completion of the jump produced a cache of scientific data that can be applied to the space exploration and aviation industry.
Day said the Red Bull Stratos mission proved the feasibility of a high-altitude escape for astronauts and space tourists who experience failure of their aircrafts.
“I don’t think it’s much more than 10 or 20 years that we’re going to be paying for rides to space,” Day said. “The space suit design that was used for this project is going to be used for those endeavours.”
Day said the opportunity to work on the project was a lifetime opportunity to hone his forecasting skills and be part of a world record-setting project.
“We called it the vision from the edge of space,” Day said, referring to the 127,851-foot ascension height, which equates to more than 23 miles.
Critics say the Federation Aeronatique Internationale, which serves as an administration authority for worldwide aeronautics records, defines the “edge of space” as the Karman Line, which is 62 miles above earth’s surface.
In addition to weather forecasting, Day’s responsibilities for the mission included de-conflicting other air traffic and predicting the path of the ascension balloon.
Day is the founder of Day Weather, a consulting firm in Cheyenne that provides forecasts for media outlets, construction, agriculture and transportation in the Rocky Mountain region. He and his wife are also hot air balloon pilots.
Also at Wednesday’s Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce Luncheon, CEO Dixie Johnson announced Christmas Stroll buttons are still for sale.
Chamber of Commerce Information Specialist Janet Shepherd said unsold buttons are equally as likely to be displayed in a participating business or drawn for weekly cash prizes because the winning numbers are drawn from a known range.
“We sell every button each year,” Shepherd said, indicating the vast majority of buttons have already been sold.
Shepherd added that just under half of door prizes have been claimed by shoppers as of this morning. She said if door prizes go unclaimed, the individual business remits the prize.