October 14, 2012
Fearless Felix Breaks The Speed Of Sound
Not many people can say they have taken a freefall from the edge of space. Well actually, nobody can, that is, except for Australian daredevil extraordinaire Felix Baumgartner.
That’s right, the man known as Fearless Felix has just broke the record (October 14, 2012) for the world’s highest freefall, jumping out of his helium balloon-lifted capsule from more than 120,000 feet above Earth. But what was supposed to be a jump from 120,000 feet, actually turned out to be a dive from 128,097 feet, or somewhere in the neighborhood of 24 miles.
Not only did Baumgartner shatter the previous record, held by retired US Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger, who made his record jump in 1960 from 102,800 feet, but he also became the first man to ever break the speed of sound without the aid of an aircraft, falling at a staggering 705 mph (various media reports place this freefall at speeds of anywhere between 600 and 834 mph) before opening his parachute and coming to a safe landing in the New Mexico desert.
After touching down from his historic jump, Fearless Felix said this was a dream seven years in the making.
Shortly before the jump, as he climbed to the edge of space, Baumgartner made a speech reminiscent of the one the late Neil Armstrong made as he put the first foot on the Moon in July, 1969. “Sometimes you have (to go) up really high to (realize) how small you are,” Baumgartner said on his radio.
With that, the 43-year-old Austrian opened the hatch on his capsule, stepped out into the frosty abyss of near space, took a leap off the small platform, and the rest, as they say, was history. The jump was scheduled to occur at 120,000 feet, but the balloon went higher than expected, giving Baumgartner a few extra miles of space to call his own.
The event didn’t go off totally problem-free, however. A glitch had nearly caused the daredevil elite to abort the mission–a heater in his helmet faceplate caused his helmet to fog up when he exhaled. But despite the issue, Fearless Felix wavered on. He relied on feedback from his team of 100+, which included previous record holder Kittinger.
“Let the guardian angel take care of you,” Kittinger told Baumgartner shortly before he leapt from the safety of his capsule into uncharted territory.
A helmet glitch was not the only issue that could have impacted this mission negatively, however. There were also fears that Felix could have gone into a death spiral after his jump, spinning out of control, and causing him to lose consciousness. A controlled dive from the capsule was essential, placing himself into a head-down position to increase his speed, allowing him to break the sound barrier.
Other fears included his blood boiling if even the smallest tear occurred in his pressurized suit, due to instant depressurization at an extreme altitude. And if the suit had failed, the extremely frigid temperatures, -90 degrees Fahrenheit, would have potentially frozen him to death.
While there were a number of possible negative scenarios that could have played out on this jump, the fact of the matter is, it went off flawlessly.
This was not Baumgartner’s first record. He holds several previous records, notably with spectacular BASE jumps from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Baumgartner had not only been setting records with these altitudinal freefalls, he had been giving hope to NASA, which is seeking to learn all it can about escape systems for future rocket ships and space capsules, which may allow astronauts last-minute escape routes in the light of an unforeseen life-threatening glitch.
Baumgartner made his record-shattering freefall as part of the Red Bull Stratos project, which has been 7 years in the making. For Baumgartner’s part, he has been actively training with Red Bull Stratos for the past 5 years.
Image Credit: Red Bull Stratos