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 780.

    Watch that first steeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep...........................................

  • rate this

    Comment number 779.

    It can't have just been me but him stepping off that platform is one of the bravest things I've ever seen. I was scared for him!

  • rate this

    Comment number 778.

    Brave Chap. It's the quietest 10 minutes TV watching we have ever had in our house!

  • rate this

    Comment number 777.

    I can't help but feel sorry for some people on here whose immediate thought when they see this breathtaking footage is - why bother, what a waste of money etc. It sounds like there are scientific benefits but even if there were not, why not just for the sheer wonder of it. Thankfully some people push the boundaries to excite us, even if a minority seem to want a more mundane, thrill free existence

  • rate this

    Comment number 776.



  • rate this

    Comment number 775.

    This was a privately funded record breaking endeavour, much like land speed record attempts or many sporting events, nothing more nothing less. The experience gained and the data collected in achieving this mission however will be valuable to the fields science and engineering in the aerospace industry. Something which hasn't been done before has been successfully achieved, it's called progress.

  • rate this

    Comment number 774.

    To be fair, the team haven't overplayed the scientific research aspect. It's a small, focused project with limited science aims which, who knows, may be more important than it appears now.

    Of course it's a stunt, but an impressive and inspiring one nonetheless.

    Bravo, Baumgartner!

    Next time you should take a few of the naysayers along for the ride and see them take the same step into the blue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 773.


  • rate this

    Comment number 772.

    @Mark M

    This weekend I wasted my money on beer, bowling and motorbike racing.. I imagine you waste yours on similarly useful things and I imagine we should both be spending it on charity instead.

    Felix Baumgartner wastes his on leaping into space.

    What did you do this weekend Mark M?

  • rate this

    Comment number 771.

    his courage is outstanding really and this achivement will open many doors for many new findings in aerospace technology,

  • rate this

    Comment number 770.

    Red Bull must have an inordinate amount of spare cash slopping around. Great advertising.

  • rate this

    Comment number 769.

    When I was a kid saw a program about what Joe Kittinger did and thought it was right up there with the space race. Glad that there are still people like Felix pushing these boundaries.
    And those saying what a waste money, not brave, blah blah blah..... It is exactly because of people of the ilk of Joe and Felix that allow you to get on a plane and fly off on holiday!

  • rate this

    Comment number 768.

    Bob Peel: "I thought I remembered stories from WWII that terminal velocity of the human body in freefall was 128mph. So how did Baumgartner break the sound barrier?"

    Yes, through an atmosphere at sea level perhaps. But Felix was falling through just 2% of that, virtually a vaccum, so there was no resistance, hence 834MPH.

    Clearly a comment from someone adding their pointless two pence worth!

  • rate this

    Comment number 767.

    Mark M etc..

    Presumably t could be argued that almost everything that isn't directly connected with the advancement of medical science and world peace could be considered a waste of time and money:-

    Which would include almost everything that is interesting, exciting and extraordinary, along with all sports events and entertainment.

    Well done Felix.

  • rate this

    Comment number 766.

    Fantastic,it gave me a rush just watching him freefall,10/10,for effortless cakewalk landing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 765.

    @763. what happens to the balloon and capsule - finders keepers or just more space junk....

    The capsule came down by parachute (it was Baumgartner's 'fall back' if he couldn't jump.

    Gravity will return the very thin balloon; it cannot escape orbit into space.

  • rate this

    Comment number 764.

    Why does everything have to be about money, or scientific advancement, or medical cures, or ending world poverty?
    What a fantastic thing to do, pushing the boundaries of human experience and just celebrating being human, being alive! I for one am pleased he got the opportunity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 763.

    what happens to the balloon and capsule - finders keepers or just more space junk....

  • rate this

    Comment number 762.

    748.Archimedes Screwed.

    So we'll see you next at an altitude of 40km next time shall we?

    Even if I was THAT stupid (or ignorant for that matter), I would invite you to try it first. If it works out ok, I still wouldnt waste my time, money or infact anyone elses for that matter :o)

  • rate this

    Comment number 761.

    You certainly need a head for heights. What a fantastic feat.

    Reminds me of the Olympic spirit. Here today gone tommorrow.

    And think of all the worlds out there man can corrupt and destroy...until he meets someone or something that will simply stop him. Great.

    Seriously though another suberb scientific feat.


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