We had been teased by a PR operation so slick that Red Bull was rumoured to have aborted its first skydive to prolong exposure. The marketing potential of Felix Baumgartner’s leap was out of this world but for the rest of us, it felt like we’d overdosed on energy drink; cynicism had set in.
Then something happened. During the mundane hours of a Sunday afternoon, we learned that the mission was back on, that the man in a spacesuit was about to do something insane.
First it was boring. Baumgartner looked like Buzz Aldrin on a portable loo. But as the altimeter rolled past heights we could comprehend, we turned to YouTube’s live feed in our millions. News channels cut to New Mexico, and editors began redrawing front pages.
By the time Baumgartner stepped onto his tiny balcony to take in a view few men will see, hearts raced as fast as his. He stood, and and then he fell, quickly shrinking to the size of a pinprick.
The seconds that followed were terrifying, as a man-shaped dot falling at 800mph began to spin out of control. Mission Control looked concerned. The Challenger disater came to mind. Would he explode? Then he stabilised, they whooped, you breathed, he landed. And that was it – you hung out your washing.
I was born in 1982, way after the moon landings. My Mother was only 12 when the late Neil Armstrong made his giant leap before a global audience of millions. Several generations have waited since for something as universally arresting. Was Red Bull Stratos a moon landing for our times?
No. The achievement was a fraction of Nasa’s. Neil Armstrong looked down on Earth from 250,000 miles up, not 24, and Joe Kittinger had jumped from almost the same height as Baumgartner 50 years ago. Stratos was easy, derivative and horribly corporate, a small step for man and a giant leap for marketing. Yet somehow it was also captivating. Children quizzed parents and – hopefully – teachers. It was a moment of wonder.
So imagine if it had been the Moon, from multiple camera angles in HD vision. Imagine the hashtags (#moon #giantleap) the animated gifs and the galleries. I say, don’t stop here, Red Bull: fly me to the Moon. It said much about the connected world that a little skydive could be so thrilling. Moon Landing 2.0 could excite the world like no Olympics. Anyway, I’ll be watching.