Felix Baumgartner Completes Successful Jump From 128,100 Feet Above The Earth
There aren’t very many words that one can use to describe what it was like to watch the live coverage of what, upon reflection, seems like an absolutely insane stunt. For two hours, Austrian pilot, skydiver, and daredevil Felix Baumgartner sat in a pressurized capsule as it rose, attached to a massive helium-filled balloon. He sailed passed the point where most skydivers would even consider making a jump, past the point where commercial jets fly, past the Jet Stream, past the point where pressure drops so low that all the fluids in a human body would boil away in seconds, and past the point where the SR-71 used to fly. He sailed upward past the point where Joseph Kittinger, who was on the ground as his only contact with Earth, had jumped back in 1960, and past the highest point a manned balloon had ever sailed. Finally, at the height of 128,100 feet, more than 24 miles above the Earth, he jumped out:
ROSWELL, N.M. — Felix Baumgartner, the professional daredevil, said he was not thinking about setting records or collecting scientific data in the moments before he jumped from a capsule more than 24 miles high.
He was just thinking about making it back to Earth.
“Trust me, when you stand up there on top of the world, you become so humble. It’s not about breaking records anymore. It’s not about getting scientific data. It’s all about coming home,” Mr. Baumgarter said after returning by helicopter to mission control in Roswell.
“It was harder than I expected,” he said.
People around the world watched on the Web as Mr. Baumgartner stood on the edge of his capsule completing a final checklist, then jumped into a near vacuum at above 127,000 feet, or more than 24 miles. Minutes later he landed on his feet in the eastern New Mexico desert, and lifted his arms in victory.
Back at mission control and in a waiting room, his support team and family cheered.
Mr. Baumgartner, 43, a former Austrian paratrooper, took 2 hours 21 minutes to reach the height, lifting off in an enormous helium balloon that smoothly carried him through the critical first 4,000 feet — called the Dead Zone because it would be impossible to parachute to safety if something went wrong at that point.
From the sky above the New Mexico desert he had hoped to make the highest jump in history and become the first sky diver to break the speed of sound.
His leap seemed to be the longest ever, beating the existing distance record by about 25,000 feet, but exact times, distances and other records were not immediately known; mission control said it first needed to retrieve the data from computer chips in Mr. Baumgartner’s suit.
Before the jump, Mr. Baumgartner went through a checklist with help from Joe Kittinger, 84, the retired Air Force colonel who in 1960 jumped from 102,800 feet, setting records that remained more than half a century later — which Mr. Baumgartner was hoping to break.
During the second hour of ascent, Mr. Baumgartner complained to Mr. Kittinger that the heating system in his visor was not working properly, and the visor was fogging up. At that point viewers following the live feed of the mission stopped hearing the men’s conversation. The Red Bull Stratos team said that Mr. Kittinger had decided to “enable private conversation.”
After his leap into space Mr. Baumgartner again complained about fog in his visor, but it did not seem to impede his ability to gain control during his fall.
The mission required the largest balloon ever used for a manned flight. Made of 40 acres of ultrathin plastic, it had been described as an inflated dry-cleaning bag that would fill the Los Angeles Coliseum.
When inflated and attached to Mr. Baumgartner’s pressurized capsule, the balloon towered 750 feet above the ground.
An earlier attempt to inflate the balloon and carry out the mission had to be abandoned last week because of weather. The winds at the balloon’s height and at the ground had to be less than three miles an hour for it to be launched safely, so that there was no chance of the balloon lurching and smashing the capsule into the ground.
Until the last minute on Sunday, it was not certain that the mission would actually happen.
Mr. Baumgartner, wearing a pressurized suit to survive in the near vacuum at the edge of space, had hoped to reach a speed of more than 700 miles an hour.
He was backed by a NASA-style mission control operation at an airfield in Roswell that involved 300 people, including more than 70 engineers, scientists and physicians who have been working for five years on the project, called Red Bull Stratos, after the drink company that has financed it.
Besides aiming at records, the engineers and scientists on the Red Bull Stratos team are gathering and publishing reams of data intended to help future pilots, astronauts and perhaps space tourists survive if they have to bail out.
“We’re testing new space suits, escape concepts and treatment protocols for pressure loss at extreme altitudes,” said the Red Bull Stratos medical director, Dr. Jonathan Clark, who formerly oversaw the health of space shuttle crews at NASA. “There are so many things that could go wrong here that we’re pushing the technical envelope.”
As it turned out, and as covered in the just concluded post-jump press conference, Baumgartner jumped out at 128,100 feet above the surface, more than 24 miles high, and, most astoundingly of all perhaps, he hit a maximum speed during his freefall of 833.9 miles per hour. That’s Mach 1.24, folks. Faster than any human being has traveled without the aid of machinery. That means Baumgartner broke three records. He completed the highest successful jump in human history, he completed the highest manned balloon flight, and for a few brief seconds he became the fastest man on the planet. The only record he didn’t break is the record for the longest freefall. That record is still held by Joe Kittinger. In retrospect, Baumgartner could have held off pulling his chute for at least another minute, but right before the chute deployed he was saying on the live feed that his visor was fogging up, likely due to the issues that they had been having with the heating mechanism during the ascent. It’s possible he deployed the chute because of that, or because he simply couldn’t see his altimeter anymore.
This jump was originally scheduled to take place several days ago but had to be aborted due to strong winds at high altitudes that could’ve sent the balloon drifting far out of control. Appropriately enough though, it just happened to take place on the 65th Anniversary of the day that General Chuck Yeager (USAF, Ret.) broke the sound barrier. In fact, General Yeager, marked that occasion himself by doing it again at the age of 89:
NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. – Sixty-five years after becoming the first human to fly faster than the speed of sound, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager is still making noise.
The 89-year-old Yeager, who was featured in the movie “The Right Stuff,” flew Sunday in the back seat of an F-15 Eagle instead of the experimental rocket plane, Bell X-1, he piloted on the historic flight.
The F-15 took off from Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas and broke the sound barrier at more than 30,000 feet above California’s Mojave Desert where Yeager achieved the feat on Oct. 14, 1947.
Yeager wasn’t the pilot this time, but I think he deserved to take the scenic route this time.
As for Baumgartner, I really can’t describe what it was like to watch this happen live. After Jazz Shaw had clued me into all this a couple weeks ago, I began to understand the dangers that this mission face notwithstanding all of the technology, backup systems, safety precautions, and abort points that they might have built into the mission. Felix’s attempt at this was certainly safer in many respects than Colonel Kittinger’s was 52 years ago, but there were still so many little things that could have gone wrong that the outcome was by no means predetermined. Indeed, when the mission reached that point where the balloon had effectively reached its maximum height, the cabin was depressurized, and the door to the stratosphere was open, there seemed to be several moments where Baumgartner hesitated as he and Kittinger went through the final pre-jump checklist. Kittinger seemed to be coaxing him back to reality just a little bit. I’m not sure if it was nerves or oxygen deprivation, but whatever the reason is, I’m certainly not about to complain about someone hesitating a little bit when they’re looking down from 24 miles above their home planet. The fact that he even when through with the act is testament enough as far as I’m concerned.
We’re told that this endeavor will garner important scientific data or NASA and other researchers who are working on the next generation of spacesuits, and for that reason alone it might well be worth it. However, it strikes me that it’s worth it for another reason. It’s a testament to the human spirit, and we haven’t seen many of those in recent years.
Here’s the video of the jump, at the beginning you’ll see some of the evidence of the hesitation and/or oxygen deprivation that I was talking about:
Update: Here’s a clip from a documentary that includes video of Joe Kittinger’s jump: