Millions awed by supersonic skydive
ROSWELL, N.M.—Felix Baumgartner stood alone at the edge of space, poised in the open doorway of a capsule suspended above Earth and wondering if he would make it back alive.
Twenty-four miles (39 km) below him, millions of people were right there with him, watching on the Internet and marveling at the wonder of the moment.
Millions watched him breathlessly as he shattered the sound barrier and then landed safely about nine minutes later—becoming the world’s first supersonic skydiver.
“When I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble, you do not think about breaking records anymore, you do not think about gaining scientific data,” Baumgartner said after the jump.
“The only thing you want is to come back alive.”
The tightly-orchestrated jump meant primarily to entertain became much more than that in the dizzying, breathtaking moment—a collectively shared cross between Neil Armstrong’s moon landing and Evel Knievel’s famed motorcycle jumps.
It was part scientific wonder, part daredevil reality show, with the live-streamed event instantly capturing the world’s attention.
Baumgartner, a 43-year-old Austrian, hit Mach 1.24, or 833.9 m.p.h. (1,342 km/h), according to preliminary data, and became the first person to reach supersonic speed without travelling in a jet or a spacecraft.
The capsule he jumped from had reached an altitude of 128,100 feet (39,000 metres) above Earth, carried by a 55-storey ultra-thin helium balloon.
Landing on his feet in the desert, the man known as “Fearless Felix” lifted his arms in victory to the cheers of jubilant friends and spectators who closely followed at a command centre.
“Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are,” an exuberant Baumgartner told reporters outside mission control after the jump.
About half of Baumgartner’s nine-minute descent was a free fall of 119,846 feet (36,529 metres), according to Brian Utley, a jump observer from the FAI, an international group that works to determine and maintain the integrity of aviation records.
During the first part of Baumgartner’s free fall, anxious onlookers at the command centre held their breath as he appeared to spin uncontrollably.
“When I was spinning first 10, 20 seconds, I never thought I was going to lose my life but I was disappointed because I’m going to lose my record,” he said.
Baumgartner said travelling faster than sound is “hard to describe because you don’t feel it.”
The pressurized suit prevented him from feeling the rushing air or even the loud noise he made when breaking the sound barrier.
With no reference points, “you don’t know how fast you travel,” he explained.
The dive was more than just a stunt. NASA is eager to improve its blueprints for future spacesuits.
Baumgartner’s team included Joe Kittinger, who first tried to break the sound barrier from 19.5 miles (31 km) up in 1960, reaching speeds of 614 m.p.h. (988 km/h).
Although he broke the sound barrier, the highest manned-balloon flight record, and became the man to jump from the highest altitude, Baumgartner failed to break Kittinger’s 4 minute and 36 second longest free fall record.
Baumgartner’s was timed at 4 minutes and 20 seconds in free fall.
He said he opened his parachute at 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) because that was the plan.
“I was putting everything out there, and hope for the best and if we left one record for Joe—hey, it’s fine,” Baumgartner replied when asked if he intentionally left the record for Kittinger to hold.