Opinion: Red Bull energizes the space industry

Brian Reimer

Brian Reimer

Brian Reimer is a senior anthropology major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

Felix Baumgartner’s record-breaking sky-dive is both a triumph for the future prospects of the emerging space industrial complex and a reflection upon the failures of the government-dominated astro-bureaucracy.

On Oct. 14, Baumgartner jumped from a balloon 24 miles above Earth and subsequently broke the sound barrier, maxing out at 833.9 mph, or Mach 1.24, on his four-minute, 20-second descent. Along the way, Baumgartner broke the world record for the highest sky-dive, fastest free-fall and highest-altitude balloon flight.

When Baumgartner reached the desert ground near Roswell, N.M., he landed on his feet, like a boss. But Baumgartner isn’t a NASA astronaut; rather, he is an Austrian skydiver and daredevil sponsored by the Red Bull Stratos project. That’s right, as the United States continues to cut funding to its already dismally allocated space program, companies like Red Bull have to sponsor extreme research and inspire the public’s interest in science.

Although the recent Mars Curiosity rover is no doubt a national treasure, the Curiosity project is the prodigy of an unambitious vision for the future by a cash-strapped space program. The Curiosity rover project shows NASA’s dedication to exploring space from Earth through the perspective of unmanned robots. The cost and risk of sending highly trained astronauts has become too high for NASA to seriously invest its interests into manned space exploration.

On top of its exorbitant costs and risks, NASA stands to gain very little from a serious approach to manned spaceflight. A private company can mine an asteroid and gain billions of dollars that will be used to further encourage space exploration, whereas NASA can spend billions to go to the moon and bring back a few bags of rocks. The private space industry has much more to gain and much more to contribute to the economy, science and space adventuring.

Although it is sad to note the solemn and unmarked ending of nationally funded space programs, there should be a lot of optimism looking forward to the future of privately funded space exploration.

The Red Bull Stratos project is assured to be a massive PR and marketing success for the Red Bull brand. The Red Bull logo has been ingrained into nearly every corner of the Internet in the past few days and doesn’t seem to be going away. Baumgartner’s jump and the recent SpaceX docking with the International Space Station have been the coming-out party for an emerging industry that will have a significant impact on the future of the world’s economic and scientific sectors.

Baumgartner’s record-breaking jump is only the first “small step” toward a future in which businesses will be able to explore outer space without the funding restrictions and bureaucratic red tape that has stifled government exploration since the end of the Cold War. It’s unclear whether the Red Bull Stratos project will offer anything significant to the scientific community. However, at least we now have empirical evidence that Red Bull does, indeed, give you wings.