Austrian daredevil skydiver Felix Baumgartner has cemented his place in history, becoming the first person to break the sound barrier unaided by a vehicle and shattering the record for the highest ever freefall. He leapt from a helium balloon, 24miles above ground at the edge of the stratosphere on Sunday 14th October, in Roswell, New Mexico.
His first 3 attempts to make the jump were aborted due to windy weather and Sunday’s feat was nearly aborted too as he had a problem with one of the heating valves in his visor that caused it to mist up. However Baumgartner and the team of experts working with him decided to go ahead with it.
The world watched with bated breath as Baumgartner made his 2.5 hour ascent to edge of the stratosphere and leapt from the pressurized cabin at 128,100ft to make his descent to earth!
There was a 20 second delay on the video stream – in the event of a tragic accident, however thankfully all went well and people from all corners of the world tuned in to watch the historic jump.
A slight problem with Baumgartner’s state-of-the-art suit or helmet could have caused the Austrian’s blood to boil or made his brains explode!!! Many others who have attempted jumps of this nature have lost their lives in the process.
YouTube said that the Red Bull Stratos event broke the record for the simultaneous live stream viewing with more than 8 million people watching Baumgartner’s death-defying feat.
There were a few anxious moments, when Baumgartner appeared to be in an uncontrollable spin, however he managed to regain control and was able to open his parachute and land gently in the Roswell desert.
His maximum velocity was 833.9mph (1,342km/h) and the descent took him just under 10 minutes. As he landed gracefully, he dropped to his knees before raising his fists triumphantly. He was met by a helicopter that took him to celebrate his victory with the team at mission control.
At a media conference Baumgartner said:
“Let me tell you – when I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble. You don’t think about breaking records anymore, you don’t think about gaining scientific data – the only thing that you want is to come back alive.”
Baumgartner’s records will not be ‘official’ until they are endorsed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) – however that is simply procedure and something tells me that Baumgartner is likely to hold those records for quite some time! He was met by a FAI representative when he landed and the height and speed figures that have been quoted from the jump came from GPS data recorded on a microcard in his chest pack.
Baumgartner’s ‘secret weapon’ for the epic jump was retired US Air Force Col Joe Kittinger, who had radio contact with the Austrian throughout the event. Kittinger actually holds some of the records that Baumgartner was attempting to break – the highest, farthest and longest freefall. In 1960 Kittinger leapt from a helium envelope from an altitude of 102,800ft (31km).
Baumgartner secured the highest and farthest milestones however Kittinger retained one record; the ‘longest freefall.’ Kittinger was freefalling for more than 4 and a half minutes whereas Baumgartner’s freefall only lasted 4 mins and 20 seconds before his parachute was deployed.
Kittinger, who is now in his 80s, was a significant member of the Red Bull Stratos team, he was visibly ecstatic after watching Baumgartner land safely and successfully. He said: “Felix did a great job and it was a great honor to work with this brave guy.”
Baumgartner first thought about trying to break Kittinger’s records in 2005, since then he has been working towards getting the technology and the budget together to make it happen.
Researchers on Baumgartner’s team have said that the jump will provide invaluable information for the development of high-performance, high-altitude parachute systems. They also believe that the data gathered could be useful source of information for the development of new emergency evacuation systems in the future. NASA has been following the project closely and will be consulting with the team on their discoveries.