Skydiver Felix Baumgartner breaks sound barrier


Highlights from Felix Baumgartner's leap into the record books

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Austrian Felix Baumgartner has become the first skydiver to go faster than the speed of sound, reaching a maximum velocity of 833.9mph (1,342km/h).

In jumping out of a balloon 128,100ft (24 miles; 39km) above New Mexico, the 43-year-old also smashed the record for the highest ever freefall.

He said he almost aborted the dive because his helmet visor fogged up.

Footage from a camera on Baumgartner's chest shows out-of-control spin

It took just under 10 minutes for him to descend. Only the last few thousand feet were negotiated by parachute.

Once down, he fell to his knees and raised his fists in triumph. Helicopter recovery teams were on hand moments later.

"Let me tell you - when I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble. You don't think about breaking records anymore, you don't think about gaining scientific data - the only thing that you want is to come back alive," he said afterwards at a media conference.

None of the new marks set by Baumgartner can be classed as "official" until endorsed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI).

The jump in numbers

  • Exit altitude: 128,100ft; 39,045m
  • Total jump duration: 9'03"
  • Freefall time: 4'20"
  • Freefall distance 119,846ft; 36,529m
  • Max velocity: 833.9mph; 1,342.8km/h; Mach 1.24

Its representative was the first to greet the skydiver on the ground. GPS data recorded on to a microcard in the Austrian's chest pack will form the basis for the height and speed claims that are made.

These will be submitted formally through the Aerosport Club of Austria for certification.

There was concern early in the dive that Baumgartner was in trouble. He was supposed to get himself into a delta position - head down, arms swept back - as soon as possible after leaving his capsule. But the video showed him tumbling over and over.


Eventually, however, he was able to use his great experience, from more than 2,500 career dives, to correct his fall and get into a stable configuration.

Even before this drama, it was thought the mission might have to be called off. As he went through last-minute checks inside the capsule, it was found that a heater for his visor was not working. This meant the visor fogged up as he exhaled.

"This is very serious, Joe," he told retired US Air Force Col Joe Kittinger, whose records he was attempting to break, and who was acting as his radio link in mission control at Roswell airport.

The team took a calculated risk to proceed after understanding why the problem existed.

Baumgartner's efforts have finally toppled records that have stood for more than 50 years.

Kittinger set his marks for the highest, farthest, and longest freefall when he leapt from a helium envelope in 1960. His altitude was 102,800ft (31km). (His record for the longest freefall remains intact - he fell for more than four and a half minutes before deploying his chute; Baumgartner was in freefall for four minutes and 20 seconds).

Kittinger, now an octogenarian, has been an integral part of Baumgartner's team, and has provided the Austrian with advice and encouragement whenever the younger man has doubted his ability to complete such a daring venture.

"Felix did a great job and it was a great honour to work with this brave guy," the elder man said.

The 43-year-old adventurer - best known for leaping off skyscrapers - first discussed seriously the possibility of beating Kittinger's records in 2005.

Since then, he has had to battle technical and budgetary challenges to make it happen.

What he was proposing was extremely dangerous, even for a man used to those skyscraper stunts.

On a parachute The Austrian first began to discuss seriously the idea of a record breaking jump in 2005

At Sunday's jump altitude, the air pressure is less than 2% of what it is at sea level, and it is impossible to breathe without an oxygen supply.

Others who have tried to break the records have lost their lives in the process.

Baumgartner's team built him a special pressurised capsule to protect him on the way up, and for his descent he wore a next generation, full pressure suit made by the same company that prepares the flight suits of astronauts.

Although the jump had the appearance of another Baumgartner stunt, his team stressed its high scientific relevance.

The researchers on the Red Bull Stratos project say it has already provided invaluable data for the development of high-performance, high-altitude parachute systems, and that the lessons learned will inform the development of new ideas for emergency evacuation from vehicles, such as spacecraft, passing through the stratosphere.

Nasa and its spacecraft manufacturers have asked to be kept informed.

Press conference Kittinger (L) was the only person Baumgartner wanted to hear on the radio during the mission

"Part of this programme was to show high-altitude egress, passing through Mach and a successful re-entry back [to subsonic speed], because our belief scientifically is that's going to benefit future private space programmes or high-altitude pilots; and Felix proved that today," said Art Thompson, the team principal.

In getting to 128,100ft (above sea level; Roswell elevation 3,670ft/1,120m), Baumgartner exceeded the altitude for the highest ever manned balloon flight achieved by Victor Prather and Malcolm Ross, who ascended to 113,720ft (35km) in 1961.

However, the FAI rules, state that to claim an official ballooning record, a balloonist must also bring the envelope down and therefore the Austrian's altitude will forever remain just an unofficial mark.

A BBC/National Geographic documentary is being made about the project. This will probably air first in the UK and in the US in November, and in other territories sometime soon after.

Lift off The giant helium balloon carrying Baumgartner's capsule was released early morning local time in Roswell
Felix Baumgartner's suit and capsule 1 2 3 4 7 6 5 8 9 10 11 12

Heated sun visor

Oxygen supply hose

Main parachute handle

HD camera on each leg

Suit made of layered material

Mirror to check parachute

Altitude gauge

High altitude balloon: expands with altitude

Balloon made of plastic film 0.002cm thick

Frame attaches capsule to balloon

Sliding door to exit capsule

Foam insulated shell


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  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Stupid statement, as most of the greatest achievements were down to individuals ( jet engine, the internet, DNA - that was 2 people!)

    3 people. Berners-Lee, F. Miescher, and F. Whittle.

    Those 3 people could have been nobodies if the world had not embraced their ideas. It is we as a race that embraced those ideas and moved them forward.

    Try again, to justify all the hype.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    @171 Foolish person.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    @118 and all the others bemoaning on here. Actually, it IS one persons' achievement that tends to spur the human race on in development, Louie Pasteur, Thomas Edison, all those unsung heroes who make personal accomplishments, the data from which makes all of our lives either better or more fun to live. Not to mention the wealth of scientific data that will help in the colonization of our orbit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    The first leap made my heart leap...crazy chap but well done

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    It's depressing to see that some people feel the need to disparage such awesome achievements as this. Hell, why did Hillary and Tensing climb mount Everest? Why did NASA send men to the Moon? because those things, and many more besides, go straight to the heart of what it means to be human that's why. Congratulations Felix.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Another opportunity missed to raise some serious cash for the health research of the world. With a bit of common sense this stunt might have done a hell of a lot of good for human kind but no..... and frankly if there was ANY chance that he was going to fail it would not have been aired... so its a bit of a so what, the fact that it WAS aired says it was a forgone conclusion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    I think it is one of the most important test as we were witnesses in the least time. It shows how to safe come backe quickly in an emergency of faiulre of space shuttle in the space. It must be great thing, because we must know more about space mission safety, including a safety of a persons sent into. Look! It was twice repeatedly prepaired. However...we can see it is the highest jump in all time

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    To the people that hate . He will be remembered in history your lifes won't if you don't enjoy your life don't hate others

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    179. widespreadfrost
    The fact at that height there is no significant atmosphere would be of no great problem at that speed as most of the velocity would be straight up, not orbital.
    He showed today that both materials and the human body can survive a fall from that altitude and so they can now design automatic systems that can assist the future escapee to also survive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Dear oh dear, why so many negative people, making so many negative comments!?

    This was one of those unique moments of history that most reasonable thinking people will look back on with pride, without this sort of enterprise Man would never have stepped on the moon. Mind you I dare say most of the negative thinkers here probably still think that didn't happen!

    I think it was a great effort.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Well done! Austria should be proud :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    @161Bumbly 25

    Pay attention he went in the opposite direction to get to 128000 ft in the first place, so they already have the averages - I can only assume they are not so impressive hence they are not publicising them.

    Incredible feat and genuinely dangerous judging by past failures and the length the record has stood. No one is coming to rescue you at 20000ft and 700 mph vertical.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    This is absolutely incredible. I didn't think for one moment that anyone could dive as far and as fast as the Liberal Democrats over the last 2 years!! Well done fella..

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    To all the naysayers:

    What have you achieved recently?

    Thought not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    137. DD2000

    'will a man survive the experience' - well maybe, maybe not, depends on whether he has RedBull financing. But who cares? If there isn't a problem don't try and fix it.

    'can he control rolling & yawing in low pressure free fall?'.
    'will the systems work as predicted by models?'
    'will the oxygen substitution in his breathing.......'

    Already known, already known, already known.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    Damn - I missed it - send him back to do it again so I can watch it! Seriously, a magnificent achievement, but what would have happened if the 'chute had failed - would he have been awarded a Darwin? Anyway, congratulations on a safe landing from a great height, Felix Baumgartner!

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    @41.Bob Peel
    44 Minutes ago
    I might be talking through my hat here but I believe it may have something to do with travelling through a near vacuum from that height. I think the term terminal velocity only applies in the lower atmosphere i.e. plane height. I'd quite like someone more technical to explain it properly to me actually.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    I think number 3 post might be from Karl Pilkington!

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    He looked like Superman falling from planet Krypton

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Found this awe-inspiring almost mystical. For some reason reminds me of "2001: A Space Odyssey" though this is fact not fiction.

    It seems like human courage and scientific endeavour are limitless. Man is pushing the limits of possibility yet cannot control the occurrence of favourable weather conditions that made it happen after reattempts. Look forward to the upcoming documentary.


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