Felix Baumgartner freefall breaks speed of sound
Austrian daredevil pulls out of terrifying spin before plummeting to earth at mach 1.2
FELIX BAUMGARTNER, a man previously best known for Base jumping off skyscrapers, has become the first person to break the speed of sound in a freefall after jumping out of a helium balloon from a height of 128,100ft (24 miles). The 43-year-old Austrian also broke the records for highest manned balloon flight and highest skydive.
Baumgartner said he almost abandoned his attempt twice. The first time was when he was still in his pressurised fibreglass and acrylic capsule and his visor started to fog up. However, Baumgartner and his Red Bull Stratos mission control team in Roswell, New Mexico, decided this was because his visor heater had broken and they could go ahead anyway.
Baumgartner almost aborted again when, at the very beginning of his freefall, he went into a spin. At this point he could have opened his parachute, but he eventually managed to work his way into the 'Delta’ position - arms swept back and head down.
After that scare, Baumgartner accelerated to a speed of 833.9mph (mach 1.2), skydiving for four minutes and 20 seconds (see video below) before deploying his parachute and floating down for a gentle landing in the New Mexico desert.
At a press conference afterwards, Baumgartner confessed to feelings of fear. "Let me tell you - when I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble," he said. "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...
"Sometimes you have to go up really high to see how small you are."
Baumgartner’s jump will have a scientific legacy. Nasa has taken an interest as the lessons learnt by the Red Bull Stratos team could lead to the development of high-altitude evacuation strategies for space pilots.
"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," team principal Art Thompson told the BBC.