Baumgartner Survives Heart-Pounding, Record-Setting Freefall

by Nancy Atkinson on October 14, 2012

Felix Baumgartner sinks to his knees and raises his arms after his successful dive from the stratosphere on Oct. 14, 2012. Credit: Red Bull Stratos.

Aerospace history was made as Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner set several records during an incredible heart-pounding jump from the stratosphere where he became the first person to travel faster than the speed of sound with just his body. Baumgartner was lifted aloft in a specially made capsule attached to one of the largest helium balloons ever used for human balloon flights. He jumped from approximately 39 km (39,045 meters, 128,100 feet, 24.26 miles) above the Earth, and now has the record for the highest jump, fastest jump and highest human balloon flight. He also broke the speed of sound, hitting an incredible Mach 1.24 or 1,342 km/h (833.9 miles per hour), in his dizzying descent. The previous record holder for three of those records was retired Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger, 84, — Baumgartner’s trainer, mentor and CAPCOM for the jump — who relayed words of encouragement throughout the ascent and helped Baumgartner go through his egress checklist. The only record of Kittinger’s that Baumgartner didn’t break was for the longest time in freefall. Baumgartner dropped for 4 minutes 20 seconds.

See a gallery of images below of the jump:

(This article was updated at 1:32 UTC on Oct. 15, 2012 to reflect verified data from Red Bull Stratos).

Baumgartner could be heard breathing heavily, but regularly, as he stepped onto the ledge of the capsule.

Just before he jumped, looking at the view of Earth below, Baumgartner said, “I wish the world could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to go really high to see how small you are.” He then dove feetfirst from the edge of the capsule.

Infrared cameras first picked up a small white dot falling through the sky, and soon the outline of Baumgartner was visible. Then, Baumgartner entered a spin, but he quickly was able to stabilize into a perfect freefall, bringing cheers from the Mission Control team from Red Bull Stratos.

Baumgartner could be heard talking during the entire freefall, but his words couldn’t always be made out. At one point he said his visor was fogging up, which had been a problem for much of the ascent inside the capsule. For some time during the ascent, there was discussion of aborting the jump because of the visor problem. But after much discussion and debate between Baumgartner and his team, the decision was made to go ahead with the jump.

As images appeared of Baumgartner falling under a fully deployed parachute, Kittinger radioed to his protege, “I couldn’t have done it better myself!”

While the goal of the jump was mainly to break records, the Red Bull Stratos team said today’s successful jump was a “big win for science,” as it collected valuable data to help improve safety for space travel and may even help with enabling high altitude bailouts from spacecraft that may be in danger.

Kittinger’s previous records were: Freefall from highest altitude: 31 km; fastest freefall: 988 km/h (614 mph); and longest freefall: 4 minutes 36 seconds, and so Kittinger still holds that record. The previous record for highest manned balloon flight was 34.66 km made by Victor Prather and Malcolm Ross in 1961.

All images are screenshots from the Red Bull Stratos webcast feed.

Screenshot of the webcast feed just minutes before Baumgartner jumped from the capsule.

Looking over Baumgartner’s shoulder inside the capsule as he goes through his checklist before the jump

Joe Kittinger and Felix Baumgartner go through the egress checklist to prepare for the jump.

Baumgartner’s view from the capsule just before he jumped.

Infrared view of Baumgartner during his freefall.

First non-infrared view of Baumgartner under his parachute.

Another view of Baumgartner under his unfurled parachute.

Baumgartner gets closer to the ground.

Baumgartner’s family cheers after they see the parachute has successfully deployed.


Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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