By Tetsuhiko Endo; Photograph by Luke Aikins/Red Bull Photofiles
Felix Baumgartner’s attempt to break Joe Kittinger’s 50-year-old record for the highest successful skydive has hit what could prove to be a terminal snag today, as his sponsors, Red Bull have issued a statement calling an immediate halt to the Red Bull Stratos program. The announcement comes after months of hype and delays for what was increasingly seen as a shining example of privately-funded space exploration. The idea was to take the career skydiver, who likes to call himself “The God of the Sky,” up to an altitude of 120,000 feet in a modified helium balloon, and drop him out in hopes that he would break the sound barrier—and also survive. Despite the obvious dangers of such a mission, it wasn’t the logistics that brought an end to the project, it was the litigation.
Red Bull’s statement cites a lawsuit filed by promoter Daniel Hogan, who claims to own certain rights to the Stratos project and filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the energy drink giant earlier this year in a California court. When pressed for a bit more detail as to the identity of this disgruntled gentleman and his grievances, a Red Bull representative sent this comment to Adventure: “Mr. Hogan, like many others, previously contacted Red Bull regarding a project to attempt to beat Joe Kittinger's 1960 altitude free fall world record. It is not a unique idea to beat an existing world record (especially when it is 50 years old). The challenge is to actually beat it. Otherwise we do not comment on pending litigation.” A bit of Internet digging uncovered this information on the website of Wired magazine.
Promoter Daniel Hogan claims he pitched the idea to Red Bull in 2004 and provided a detailed plan, only to have Red Bull tell him, “Thanks, but no” about a year later. He sued in April, claiming Red Bull used his proposal as the basis for the Red Bull Stratos jump. The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims the stunt would be worth $375 million to $625 million in advertising revenue, according to Courthouse News Service.
Baumgartner sits firmly ensconced behind Redbull’s PR wall and the representatives I spoke with refused to comment on his feelings regarding the cancellation of the project. Redbull also declined to comment on how long it may take to resolve the court case, but they did say they planned to resume the project after the case was closed. Until then, it looks like The God of the Skies is going to have to find some work a little close to the ground.