Felix Baumgartner jumped from a balloon at the edge of outer space and into history on October 14 in New Mexico. Falling more than 24 miles above the surface of the Earth, it is believed that Baumgartner went past the speed of sound. He landed safely on his feet in a closely watched performance. Baumgartner lifted off at 10:45 a.m. EDT suspended from the largest helium-filled balloon ever used for manned flight. In a specially-designed capsule, Baumgartner (43) reached near vacuum on the edge of Earth’s atmosphere above 127,000 feet – more than 24 miles. When he reached Earth, Baumgartner lifted his arms in victory as his family and onlookers cheered. He reached 729 miles per hour.
The launch and landing took place near Roswell, New Mexico, best known for its secret government installations and stories of creatures from outer spaces. Jokesters were on hand among the press who placed a dummy in the form of an alien among the chairs set aside for journalists.
Baumgartner a.k.a. Fearless Felix broke the record set by Joe Kittinger in 1960 who jumped from 102,800 feet – a record that had been unbroken for more than 50 years. Now a retired Air Force colonel, Kittinger recalled riding his own balloon up to 102,800 feet and said a short prayer — “Lord, take care of me now.” Reaching a speed of 614 miles per hour, Kittinger spent 4 minutes, 36 seconds in free fall and survived a blackout caused by uncontrollable spinning that was relieved when his parachute opened automatically. Others tried to break his record since then, sometimes with fatal consequences.
Now 84 years old, Kittinger helped to train Baumgartner and was on hand during his ascent to talk him through the journey. The drama was heightened when the Austrian Baumgartner reported that the heating system for his visor had apparently failed, causing the visor to fog over. While the worldwide audience could hear his exchange with Kittinger at first, the two switched to a private conversation to work out the problem.
Baumgartner was wearing a specially designed customized suit, very similar to those used by astronauts for space flights. NASA is closely watching the developments since there is the hope that it might provide data that can add to the safety of future manned space flights. The scores of engineers and physicians on the project will need to look at the data from the computer chips in Baumgartner’s suit to determine the exact numbers for speed, time, and other variables. Baumgartner took 2 hours 21 minutes to reach the apex of his journey.
(Update: According to preliminary figures released by a spokesman for the Federation Aeronautic International, Baumgartner dropped through the atmosphere at 833.9 miles per hour. The speed of sound is 768 miles per hour.)