Daredevil Felix Baumgartner has broken the record for highest-ever sky dive, and also became the first man to intentionally break the sound barrier after jumping from a capsule positioned in the stratosphere – nearly 39 kilometers in the air.
“Mission accomplished!” he wrote on Twitter as soon as he landed.
The Austrian skydiver appeared anxious but in control throughout the mission, but his family could barely watch, covering their faces with their hands.
After two aborted attempts last week due to high winds that blew over the fragile balloon that was to lift Baumgartner, the mission finally set off after several delays on Sunday.
On his ascent, Baumgartner appeared to suffer a heating problem in the visor of the ultra-advanced spacesuit he wore for the attempt. The suit provided oxygen, which is scarce at such high altitudes, and prevented Baumgartner freezing on the way down. The problem was later resolved, and the balloon rose to the designated height above Roswell, New Mexico.
As he opened the gate of the capsule, Baumgartner unbuckled himself slowly and stared into the curvature of the Earth.
He then jumped without hesitation.
Baumgartner dropped at ever-faster speeds through the low-friction stratosphere, before at one point losing control and beginning to spin. At this point, he says, he had to make a very hard decision.
“There was a period of time where I really thought that I am in trouble,”
Baumgartner told a press conference after the landing.“Because I have a manual push button where I can release a drogue shute which pulls me out of the flat spin. But at the same time I knew if I pushed this button – this thing is all over, we are not going to fly supersonic.”
“When you fall down at that speed you have to make that decision, you know, somehow you have to make that call: Do I push that button and stay alive, or do I fight all my way down and break the speed of sound?” he added.
In a couple of seconds he regained command of his descent and opened the parachute only after breaking the record.
He appeared to be fine as he landed on the ground and fell to his knees, as his family clapped, and more than eight million people watched live.
Jumping from that height, Baumgartner one-upped an achievement that stood for 52 years, and broke two other records to boot.
He became the pilot of the highest-rising balloon in history.
His equipment showed that he accelerated to a speed of 1,342.8 kilometers per hour, shattering the sound barrier. Ejecting pilots have previously moved at this speed, but this is the first time man has exceeded Mach 1 on purpose.
The previous record was set in 1960 by US Air Force Colonel Joe Kittinger, who headed Mission Control and personally guided Felix through the jump this time. Kittinger jumped from 31,300 meters above ground while heading a program that developed safer parachutes for the US Air Force.
Kittinger has retained one of the records from that fall. Baumgartner’s freefall was 4 minutes 22 seconds, 17 seconds shorter than his predecessor's.
Fearless Felix’s dive – which he prepared for over the past five years – was fraught with genuine danger. If he spun out of control, the Austrian was in danger of losing consciousness, while any malfunction in the suit at such a height would have resulted in a gruesome death due to the low air pressure.
Fearless Felix began skydiving as a teenager, and later performed for a Special Forces display team in the Austrian military.
He then made his name with a series of “guerrilla” parachute jumps from iconic buildings, bypassing security and sneaking in equipment hidden in a backpack.
He once held the record for both the shortest and longest parachute jump off a building in history – 29 meters from the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio De Janeiro, and 390 from the Taiwan 101. He also skydived across the English Channel.
Baumgartner says that it will be impossible for him to top the “space jump,” and plans to “retire” and become a helicopter rescue pilot.