Felix Baumgartner went higher and faster than any man before him. Travelling in a capsule connected to a gigantic helium balloon, he reached more than 127,000 feet up in the sky and then, as if it was the most normal thing in the world but breathing heavily, he jumped.
For a moment, mission control thought about scrapping the mission in mid-flight because of a heating problem on his helmet visor. But at the end it all worked out. With the adrenaline rushing through this body, looking down to Mother Earth 24 miles away, he just went ahead and did it. His last words before taking that step:
If you could see what I could see.
Sometimes you have to be up really high to see how small you are.
I’m going home now.
The visor got foggy, but it didn’t matter. He kept his cool and landed safely back in New Mexico, where his mother was waiting, her face full of tears, overwhelmed by such an amazing stunt and having her son back, safely on Earth.
Here’s a video recap of the launch, which happened this morning at 11:30am EDT US time.
World records shattered
Felix’s daredevil stunt broke some records today.
First, the highest altitude ever achieved by any human in a balloon. The previous record was set by Lieutenant Commander Victor A. Prather Jr. and US Navy Reserve Captain Malcolm D. Ross, who climbed up to 113,740 feet in May 4, 1961. Prather died after returning from that flight, drowning in the Gulf of Mexico: his spacesuit flooded, and he drowned before the Navy could rescue him. Ross survived.
The second record is the highest jump, previously in possession of Felix’s mentor, Joe Kittinger. Pratter and Ross didn’t jump from their Strato-Lab V capsule. They just came back to Earth. But United States Air Force Captain Joe Kittinger jumped on August 16, 1960 from his Excelsior III capsule at 102,800 feet. Felix has surpassed his master, jumping from more than 127,000 feet from this Stratos capsule.
The third record is for the fastest man on Earth without any kind of mechanical propulsion. The previous speed record belonged to Kittinger too: he reached a maximum speed of 614 miles per hour (988 km/h). We know that Felix has surpassed that speed.
He also probably broke the speed of sound, but this hasn’t been confirmed yet. The first human to reach that speed using a plane was the legendary Chuck Yeager: he broke the sound barrier on October 14, 1947, piloting the Bell X-1.
He didn’t break Kittinger’s record for the longest free fall, however: 4 minutes and 36 seconds. This was because, most probably, Kittinger offered more air resistance than Baumgartner. Felix probably had a lower descent profile and is not as big as Joe.
And on top of all this awesomeness, as he was going down his suit was sending telemetry data that will serve to improve the safety of astronauts in the future.
But beyond the records or the scientific findings, what we have seen today was simply stunning. Kudos to you, Felix. The world is a bit of a better place because of brave people like you. Thank you!