Video: Skydiver Felix Baumgartner Breaks Sound Barrier

Felix’s first attempt to jump from the edge of space had to be aborted, as well as the second attempt, due to bad weather conditions. Today, Austrian Felix Baumgartner has become the first skydiver to go faster than the speed of sound, reaching a maximum velocity of 833.9mph (1,342km/h).

In jumping out of a balloon 128,100ft (24 miles; 39km) above New Mexico, the 43-year-old also smashed the record for the highest ever freefall. He said he almost aborted the dive because his helmet visor fogged up.

Read full story and watch video of dive after the jumpIt took just under 10 minutes for him to descend. Only the last few thousand feet were negotiated by parachute. Once down, he fell to his knees and raised his fists in triumph. Helicopter recovery teams were on hand moments later.

“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,” he said afterwards at a media conference.

None of the new marks set by Baumgartner can be classed as “official” until endorsed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI).

“This is very serious, Joe,” he told retired US Air Force Col Joe Kittinger, whose records he was attempting to break, and who was acting as his radio link in mission control at Roswell airport. Baumgartner’s efforts have finally toppled records that have stood for more than 50 years.

The previous highest, farthest, and longest freefall was made by Kittinger, who leapt from a helium envelope in 1960. His altitude was 102,800ft (31km). (His mark for the longest freefall remains intact; he fell for more than four and a half minutes before deploying his chute; Baumgartner was in freefall for four minutes and 19 seconds).

Kittinger, now an octogenarian, has been an integral part of Baumgartner’s team, and has provided the Austrian with advice and encouragement whenever the younger man has doubted his ability to complete such a daring venture.

“Felix did a great job and it was a great honour to work with this brave guy,” the elder man said. The 43-year-old adventurer – best known for leaping off skyscrapers – first discussed the possibility of beating Kittinger’s records in 2005. Since then, he has had to battle technical and budgetary challenges to make it happen.

What he was proposing was extremely dangerous, even for a man used to those skyscraper stunts.

At Sunday’s jump altitude, the air pressure is less than 2% of what it is at sea level, and it is impossible to breathe without an oxygen supply.

Others who have tried to break the records have lost their lives in the process.

Baumgartner’s team built him a special pressurised capsule to protect him on the way up, and for his descent he wore a next generation, full pressure suit made by the same company that prepares the flight suits of astronauts.

Although the jump had the appearance of another Baumgartner stunt, his team stressed its high scientific relevance.

The researchers on the Red Bull Stratos project say it has already provided invaluable data for the development of high-performance, high-altitude parachute systems, and that the lessons learned will inform the development of new ideas for emergency evacuation from vehicles, such as spacecraft, passing through the stratosphere.

Nasa and its spacecraft manufacturers have asked to be kept informed.

“Part of this programme was to show high-altitude egress, passing through Mach and a successful re-entry back [to subsonic speed], because our belief scientifically is that’s going to benefit future private space programmes or high-altitude pilots; and Felix proved that today,” said Art Thompson, the team principal.

A BBC/National Geographic documentary is being made about the project and will probably be aired in November.

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