There are Adrenalists, and then there are guys like Felix Baumgartner who make the usual feats of extreme men and women appear tame in comparison. The 42-year-old, Austrian, skydiving and basejumping daredevil is attempting to become the first man to break the speed of sound (excuse me, Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the speed of sound outside an aircraft) while also setting a new free fall altitude record.
On July 25th, Felix, clad in a pressurized spacesuit and helmet, jumped out of a custom-built capsule from a height of 96,640 feet, just over 18 miles from the earth’s surface. During the daring jump (the second of the Red Bull Stratos series; he made his first jump on March 15th), Felix experienced free fall for close to 5 minutes and achieved a top speed of 536 mph. He went from 0 to 536 mph in only 25 seconds. After pulling the ripcord on his parachute, Felix landed safely in Roswell, New Mexico about 10 minutes and 30 seconds after leaving the safety of the capsule.
Baumgartner’s custom-built capsule was lifted to the very edges of space in the earth’s stratosphere by an attached helium balloon. The ballon brought him up to 90,000 feet in around 90 minutes, and then it was out into the abyss peering down from an altitude only one other man has contemplated. That other man is even helping Baumgartner attempt to break his record, set more than 50 years ago.
Air Force Colonel, Joe Kittenger, completed a free fall jump from 102,900 feet on August 16, 1960. Kittenger left an air balloon and fell for almost 5 minutes before unleashing his chute 18,000 miles up. He made history for the highest balloon ascent, the highest parachute jump and the fastest speed by a human through the atmosphere. Baumgartner, smartly, has sought out the retired Air Force Colonel for advice as he attempts to best the record.
This most recent foray into the sky is Felix’s second jump and there is a third on the horizon, according to Examiner, as he attempts to break the records Col. Kittenger has held for more than half a century. He may also become the first man to achieve supersonic speed outside of an aircraft.
At around 690 mph, according to the Stratos’ team mission statement, a cackling explosion of sound denotes supersonic speed as Mach I is breached. No man has achieved Mach I speed outside of an aircraft. Before Chuck Yeager broke Mach I in the X-1 jet on October 14th, 1947, there were scientsts and physicists who believed it was impossible; the speed was too dangerous, and many believed the plane and pilot would self-combust if the speed was surpassed. Yeager proved those doubters wrong, and, now, Felix will attempt to break the same barrier using only the pull of gravity as his propulsion.
Before the jump on the 25th of July, Felix told ABC News, ”the pressure is huge, and we not only have to endure but excel. We’re excellently prepared, but it’s never going to be a fun day. I’m risking my life, after all.”
He’s not done, either.
There is a third jump, planed for this fall, in which Baumgartner will attempt to go 120,000 feet, a place where no man, not even Kittenger, has ventured. Then, he’s going to jump. The distance he’ll have to travel should give “Fearless” Felix enough time to reach supersonic speed and go into the history books as the fastest, highest, most daring skydiver in history.
We’d say that’s pretty fearless.