Felix Baumgartner stepped out of the space capsule an astonishing 24 miles above earth, or about three times the cruising altitude of jetliners. The skydiver plummeted for 4:22 seconds, but it seemed an eternity, because his faceplate was fogging up on the way down as he fell through harsh atmospheric conditions at a dizzying speed.
At 48 seconds into his jump he reached a speed upwards of 729 mph, a new record for a skydiver, but it’s still unclear whether he officially broke the sound barrier.
He also broke the record for the highest manned balloon flight, unofficially reaching a height just shy of 25 miles. He did so in a balloon that’s the largest ever manned.
Baumgartner’s long-anticipated leap Sunday, from the edge of space at an altitude of 128,000 feet, was the Austrian daredevil’s attempt at breaking several records, most notably the highest successful jump and becoming the only skydiver to break the sound barrier.
The sound barrier record, if he reached it, will have come 65 years to the day after Chuck Yeager, flying in his X-1A, first broke the barrier.
As Baumgartner opened the hatch of his capsule and stepped out onto the platform, he said before jumping, “I wish the world could see what I see right now.”
The Red Bull Stratos project had been seven years in the making. Baumgartner, 43, made the leap while wearing a pressurized space suit. He jumped from a pressurized capsule that was hoisted toward the heavens above Roswell, New Mexico, by a towering white stratospheric balloon.
During the marathon free-fall, Baumgartner’s speed of 700 plus mph came while passing through sub-freezing air zones. While falling, he was communicating with mission control that his visor was fogging up, which is the likely reason behind his early parachute deployment. As a result, Joseph Kittinger will hold onto his 52-year-old record of the longest free fall.
The epic jump, the team has maintained, represents more than a mere stunt. Extensive research that went into this mission is expected to help scientists design safer and more effective space suits for future astronauts.
Last March the skydiver and famous BASE jumper made a preparation jump from 71,580 feet (more than 13 miles) above Roswell. During that leap he set a world free-fall speed record of 364.4 mph. The free-fall spanned 3 minutes, 43 seconds, and included a plunge through temperatures as cold as minus-75 degrees.
Baumgartner became so cold that he could hardly move his hands, and the free-fall was so long that he had to fight the urge to deploy the parachute too early.
Remarkably, two others had survived jumps from similar altitudes–both in the 1960s. They were Russia’s Eugene Andreev and American Joseph Kittinger.
In July Baumgartner made his final test jump, from 97,146 feet, also in Roswell. The balloon was launched from the back of a pickup truck. For 52 years Kittinger, who also wore a pressurized suit, held the distinction of taking what had been described as “the highest step in the world.”
It was during an era in which nobody knew whether a human could survive a jump from the edge of space. A handful of people died while trying to beat Kittinger’s record.
Before Sunday’s jump, Baumgartner said of the mental struggles: “You get claustrophobic fast in the pressurized suit. You start to let your mind go, and you think of people who lost their lives trying to do what Joe Kittinger did. You have to get your mind in a different place. Count backwards … whatever you have to do.”
Kittinger added: “Of course it’s not easy. It takes a special combination [of talent]. The best partner you can have is Felix Baumgartner.”