Daredevil skydiver Felix Baumgartner breaks sound barrier
Published Sunday, October 14, 2012 7:20AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, October 14, 2012 5:44PM EDT
Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner landed a death-defying free fall from 38.6 kilometres above the Earth in a daring feat that marked the world's first supersonic skydive.
Baumgartner landed safely in New Mexico on Sunday after a reaching a maximum speed of 1,324 kilometres an hour, or Mach 1.24, which is faster than the speed of sound.
“I never anticipated it would be so tough,” Baumgartner told reporters during a press conference following the jump.
“It’s so hard to perform for so many hours at 100-per cent level in front of the whole world. Every move you do, everything you say, someone is watching.”
He said the jump started strong with a near-perfect exit from the capsule. However, Baumgartner quickly went into a flat spin, which put immense pressure on his body.
“That spin became so violent over all axes. It was hard to know how to get out of that spin,” he said.
Baumgartner did manage to regain control of the jump.
He lifted his arms in victory shortly after landing from 128,097 feet, sending off loud cheers from onlookers and friends inside the mission's control centre in Roswell, N.M.
The 43-year-old said he’s done with daredevil jumps for the time being.
“I would say it is way more difficult than everything I have done so far, and I think I’m done.”
While official records are still being calculated, the jump broke a number of records, including the highest free-fall jump ever by a human, the fastest free-fall ever and the highest manned balloon flight by a human.
The Austrian native fell from more than three times the height of the average cruising altitude for jetliners and experienced a reported four-minute and 19-second free fall.
However, he was short of achieving the longest free fall record, set in 1960 by Col. Joe Kittinger, who acted as a consultant on Sunday’s jump.
"Our guardian angel will take care of you," Kittinger radioed to Baumgartner around the 100,000-foot mark, and noted that it was getting "really serious" now.
Kittinger jumped from 102,800 feet for a four-minute and 36-second free fall as part of a U.S. Air Force mission.
Baumgartner, also known as “Fearless Felix,” ascended high above Earth on Sunday in a pressurized capsule carried by an ultra-thin, 55-story helium balloon for approximately 2.5 hours before jumping into a near vacuum with no oxygen.
As he exited his capsule from high above Earth, Baumgartner flashed a thumbs-up to the estimated 7.3 million viewers watching on YouTube, which was live-streamed online.
At Baumgartner's insistence, some 30 cameras recorded the event. While it had been pegged as a live broadcast, it was actually under a 20-second delay.
The highly-anticipated space jump experienced a series of delays because of weather conditions.
“They were not prepared to fly until they had the conditions exactly the way they wanted them,” York University astronomy professor Paul Delaney told CTV News Channel on Sunday. “Those conditions lined up tonight in the deserts of New Mexico.”
Delaney said the data collected during the historic jump provides researchers with invaluable information.
“Most of the science will be of the human body and technologies associated with this flight to keep him, literally to keep him alive,” said Delaney. “We have not had many people at these kinds of altitudes.”
Delaney said the jump, sponsored by energy drink maker Red Bull, shows a significant shift in space exploration.
He said privately-funded space initiatives are playing an important role in research.
“They’re augmenting NASA,” said Delaney. “They are no longer the only game in town and we need groups like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic to be able to access the near earth environment in a relatively cost effective fashion.”
This attempt marked the end of a five-year road for Baumgartner, a record-setting high-altitude jumper. He already made two preparation jumps in the area, one in March from 24 kilometres high and one in July from 29 kilometres high.
It will also be the end of his extreme altitude jumping career; he has promised this will be his final jump.
With files from The Associated Press