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 800.

    I want a go!!! How long before Richard Branson starts selling these to tourists?

  • rate this

    Comment number 799.

    MarkM - This was a private endeavour. Frankly, they were entitled to spend their own money however which way suited them.
    That's by the by. With the advent of space tourism just over the horizon, exercises such as this are vital.

  • Comment number 798.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 797.

    The more I think about it the more surreal and crazy I think this stunt was... I for one won't be challenging him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 796.

    An amazing achievement, and news that makes you go WOW rather than despair. Interested to see if anyone takes up the challenge now. There were a number of projects active in the 60's to allow astronauts to return from space via parachute such as GE's Project MOOSE (Man Out Of Space; Easiest). Maybe if access to suborbital space gets cheaper, someone will try from much higher! Mr Branson?

  • rate this

    Comment number 795.

    A man can break the sound barrier without much protection. Great work of science and technology. So much has been learned in just 10 minutes of a brave man's jump. Kudos to the team that made this happen and to Felix for giving us the heart to believe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 794.

    786. jamesbloke
    As we know, in space no-one can hear you scream - so does the air density affect the speed of sound & did Felix actually break the sound barrier?

    The higher you get the lower the speed of sound. 343.2 metres per second at sea level, 301 metres per second at 29,000 metres (approx Felix's height when he broke it)

    #785 Inside a plane going Mach 1.1 you can't hear a boom

  • rate this

    Comment number 793.

    Why are some people so negative about this? Joe Kitinger's jump was crucial in the development of the space program. Felix's jump will help create better emergency bail outs at high altitudes, gain scientific data on the human body, help advance commercial space travel and further enhance current technologies for astronautical endeavours. It was human kind pushing the limits! Well done Felix!

  • rate this

    Comment number 792.

    oops, I've read a little bit more and discovered that I have my facts upside down.
    The speed of sound lowers with height, therefore he did break the speed of mistake

  • rate this

    Comment number 791.

    #787. There's no legal definition of 'space' (partially for US national security reasons). One of the criteria for when 'space' begins is the height at which humans can't survive unaided which puts space at just over 30,000 feet.

    Of course the balloon has popped and fallen back to earth already so #763's question is rather moot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 790.

    Wow, saddened to see so much negativity in a thread about an amazing achievement.

    Pushing the envelope in terms of human endeavour is to be applauded. Sure, there was a fizzy drink sponsor & no doubt a book will follow too but that's just the reality of financing a record breaking event like this.

    I thought it was an amazing feat and my heart was in my mouth watching Felix take that final step.

  • rate this

    Comment number 789.

    This is inspiring stuff and useful science.Maybe next time he could (almost) knock on the door of the ISS because he could certainly go higher-maybe they`ll find a way to remove the need for a capsule and have a slightly rigid balloon that can be evacuated and go higher.It`s something a crazy Brit should be trying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 788.

    Absolutely brilliant! I for one would engage in time and space and with Felix’s comments “When you are up there you realise exactly how small you are”, and not forgetting Neil Armstrong’s comments too: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind….” I would say so!

  • rate this

    Comment number 787.


    what happens to the balloon and capsule - finders keepers or just more space junk....
    It's not in space. Is it just me, or is the lamentable standard of physics in this country really depressing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 786.

    When Thrust 2 broke the sound barrier on land, the direction & speed of the wind dermined the actual speed a sonic boom was produced at.

    Felix freefalled through almost vacuum so that he could achieve a higher terminal velocity. As we know, in space no-one can hear you scream - so does the air density affect the speed of sound & did Felix actually break the sound barrier?

  • rate this

    Comment number 785.

    Hell of an achievement, but I'm a bit confused by the headline,
    "Skydiver Felix Baumgartner breaks sound barrier".
    I'm an aircraft engineer and my basic understanding is that the sound barrier differs with height. The speed of sound at sea level is around 750mph. Therefore to break the sound barrier he would have to be doing this speed at sea-level.
    I watched the footage "no sonic boom".

  • rate this

    Comment number 784.

    Don't know about you all but makes me shiver when he stands there then steps off,,scary! Wish I had his balls!

  • rate this

    Comment number 783.

    Do you think as many people complained and moaned after Everrest was climbed or the noth and south poles walked to or the first sailors proved the earth wasn't flat?

    Some people (not me!!) like to push the boundaries basically just because they can. We would all still be in mud huts never leaving the village with out them.

  • Comment number 782.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 781.

    I'd like to know when he broke the sound barrier. I think I'm right in saying that sound travels slower in the rarified atmosphere, so the barrier would have been breached possibley earlier than people are saying.


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