He did it! Felix Baumgartner successfully jumped from space and obliterated the previous skydiving record while also breaking the speed of sound. It was a long and arduous journey, but he finally completed his mission: to jump from higher and travel faster than any skydiver in history. His mission was accomplished, but Felix had a pretty tumultuous week leading up to his historic dive. There were some snafu’s along the way, but Felix and his Red Bull Stratos team overcame them to make history.
The initial jump day was waylaid by weather on Monday, October 8. The following day was also aborted due to weather, which needed to be close to perfect, as seen in the Red Bull Stratos Meteorology analysis. Wind, precipitation, cloud cover and solar flares all threatened to derail the mission, and Oct. 9′s wind speed was over 3 mph at the apex of the inflated balloon.
Finally, on Sunday, Oct. 14, the weather was clear and Baumgartner’s team was set. He was helped into the balloon that would take him to the precipice of space and, eventually, the history books. Col. Joseph Kittinger, the previous record holder, maintained radio contact with Felix during his ascent and through his final plunge. Perhaps no man on earth could empathize with Mr. Baumgartner except the retired Air Force Colonel.
Problems during the ascent
During the second hour of Felix’s ascent in his balloon, which lasted about 2 hours and 21 minutes, he was experiencing power issues and complained to Mr. Kittinger that his visor was overheating and becoming foggy. Mr. Kittinger had enabled private conversation to figure out what went wrong with Felix and decide whether the mission could continue, so viewers were largely unaware, until he again mentioned in the crackly and unclear voice of a radio transmission, that the problems with the visor during his jump persisted.
Once the balloon and Felix’s journey reached the apogee of its ascent at more than 128,000 feet, it was time to leave the capsule. The capsule door opened and Felix finally had an unobstructed view of the planet below.
Here’s what it looked like inside the capsule:
Felix, after going through another set of checklists with Kittinger on the ground, finally took his first steps out onto the platform buttressing the capsule. His oxygen tubes were switched to his suit and the 10-minute oxygen supply started its countdown as Felix enjoyed a view no other man, even Kittinger, had ever taken in.
As Baumgartner looked out before making his leap, he said: “Alright now, the whole world is watching. I wish you could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to get up really high, (inaudible) to realize how small you are.” He then saluted before finally adding, “I’m going home now,” — at which point he jumped.
During the more than four-minute free fall, Baumgartner’s ground crew and family watched on. The first few minutes of the fall were met with the radio transmission cutting out as a graphic on the screen informed viewers of his rapidly escalating speed. He appeared to tumble chaotically at certain points and it wasn’t clear how much control he had over his descent. Finally, after what seemed like an inexorable four minutes and 20 seconds of traversing 119,846 feet down, Felix Baumgartner righted himself and deployed his parachute. A few minutes later, Felix landed on his feet as relieved family members and the technicians burst out in applause. Their look of relieved joy was the only vestige of their earlier worry.
Here is a list of the world records Baumgartner achieved during his historic skydive on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012.
128,100 feet - The height from which Felix jumped. To give you an idea, that’s 24.2 miles up in the stratosphere where the air is almost as thin as deep space. The previous highest and longest recorded skydive record had been 102,800 feet by Air Force Colonel, Joseph Kittinger, all the way back in 1960. We’ve talked a little bit about this before, when Felix did his third preparatory supersonic free fall jump, and Kittinger was a large part of the effort to beat his old record.
119,846 feet – The free fall distance Felix traveled before opening his chute.
833.9 mph – The speed Felix achieved during his free fall as determined by Brian Utley of FAI, an international federation that certifies aerospace records. Utley informed reporters during a press conference after the jump that according to their preliminary analysis, Baumgartner reached a speed of 833.9 mph or 1.24 MACH to shatter the speed of sound. The figures are preliminary and may change slightly in the coming weeks, but it’s confirmed he broke the sound barrier at his elevation, which is around 690 mph, and did so with ample room in case the figures are rounded a little bit down. No man has ever gone supersonic during a skydive until now.
The final time for Baumgartner’s free fall, 4 minutes 20 seconds, was 16 seconds short of the record set by Colonel Kittinger, but that’s trivial compared to the other records Baumgartner set on this historic day. Perhaps fairly, Kittinger still has the free fall time record, which signifies his death-defying plunge more than half a century prior. Kittinger, who was instrumental in helping Baumgartner achieve the new record, deserves to still have a place in the history books, if only because he completed his historic flight before technology drastically lowered the risks for such an undertaking.
After Baumgartner landed safely, he said:
“Trust me, when you stand up there on top of the world, you become so humble. It’s not about breaking records anymore. It’s not about getting scientific data. It’s all about coming home.” Thankfully he is in fact back home safe.
Not a bad Sunday for Felix and the more than 300 mission control technicians, physicians, engineers and scientists that have worked more than 5 years on this project. The entire Red Bull Stratos team should be commended for helping achieve their goal: to push past the boundaries of what human beings can accomplish in flight.
The Adrenalist salutes the men and women of the Red Bull Stratos team and the former Austrian paratrooper, Felix Baumgartner, who has now jumped farther and faster than anyone in history.