Today at about 1:15 EST, stuntman and skydiver Felix Baumgartner is scheduled to be lifted via a special balloon to the edge of space. Wearing a pressurized spacesuit-type outfit, he will step out of a capsule and hurtle toward Earth, in hopes of breaking the sound barrier -- without a spaceship. The stunt is being sponsored by Red Bull.
Baumgartner has been training for the Red Bull Stratos project for five years. He is fully aware that it could result in death and has discussed it with reporters. He has had plenty of time to change his mind. Dude has done plenty of other death-defying tricks in his day.
Waiting to see how this thing goes is stressing me the hell out out, but a lot of people seem to think it's just pure awesomeness, and his parents and girlfriend were all smiles this morning, not looking the least bit worried about their man jumping from 22 miles above Earth and falling down at about 690 miles per hour.
Presumably, the people at Red Bull have also considered their role and
made peace with it. They funded the stunt; they promoted it; they
encouraged it. If Baumgartner lives, they will have captured the
world's imagination for hours or days. (But people have a lot of things
competing for their attention. If it's any barometer of popularity, two
hours before his scheduled takeoff, Baumgartner's stunt was not even on
the front page of the Huffington Post.)
What if Baumgartner dies? Our society will have watched a massive tragedy unfold before our eyes and we will almost be in Hunger Games territory. (The jump is being live-streamed, though the feed is being delayed by seconds, so that it can be cut off, just in case.) My guess is that Red Bull will get more attention if he dies than if he lives.
I read the stories about Baumgartner yesterday when I checked my news feed. In other news articles I scanned, I happened to notice also that a Mark Rothko painting had sold for $86.9 million. And that Kim Kardashian is looking for a $10 million Miami mansion.
And then today I saw that two scientists had won the Nobel Prize for physics.
And then I thought: What if people with the means used their resources for more good? Red Bull is definitely onto something with its inventive and attention-grabbing contests like Flugtag, which encourages people to design crazy flying machines.
What if Red Bull shifted the focus of its contests -- from those that celebrate individual achievement or raise the bar for action sports to those that help the common good? What if Red Bull sponsored prizes for anyone who could invent an energy drink that could be given to starving kids or to disaster survivors? What if they dangled prize money for people who could imagine solutions to wars in the Middle East? What if, ten years from now at awards time, we looked forward to finding out who's won the world's biggest prizes -- the Pulitzers, the Nobels, and the Red Bull Humantiarian Invention Award?
Just a thought. I'm just telling the Red Bull folks the same thing that Felix Baumgartner tells us every time he pulls one of his tricks: Step up your game. Take it further.
I hope hope hope to God that two or three hours from now, you're all making fun of me for being a terrible worrywart, that Baumgartner is on the ground laughing, and that we see him -- alive -- on the front page of everything tomorrow.