Supersonic skydiver Felix Baumgartner reached 844 mph in record jump

Felix Baumgartner

Kittinger noted in the Red Bull Stratos report (Stratos for stratosphere) that future work is needed to test a stabilizing parachute for use at extreme altitudes.

The private project was aimed, from the start, at helping future space crews whether NASA or commercial survive high-altitude accidents.

If a highly trained jumper like Baumgartner with 2,500 jumps couldn't prevent a flat spin, "an astronaut, pilot or space tourist could not overcome this spinning probability,'' Kittinger wrote.

Thompson agreed, noting that given the right safety gear and the right conditions, there's "a remote possibility'' a space crew could survive even under such harsh circumstances as were faced by the space shuttle Columbia astronauts.

All seven astronauts perished as Columbia returned to Earth on Feb. 1, 2003. One of the crew, Laurel Clark, was married to the former NASA flight surgeon who led Baumgartner's medical team, Dr. Jonathan Clark.

"You never know what the possibilities are ... that's the direction we need to look at,'' Thompson said.

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