At approximately 8pm on the 14th October a human unassisted by machine broke through the sound barrier. ‘Fearless Felix’ Baumgartner’s record breaking jump dubbed the ‘mission to the edge of space’ captivated the world as he free fell 36,529m in a breath taking 4 minutes 20 seconds.
The Red Bull Stratos Project successfully put a human 128,100 ft (24 miles) above New Mexico in a balloon capsule, beating the previous highest manned balloon flight record of 113,740 ft. The record breaking continued with Felix free diving out of the capsule reaching velocities around 833.9 mph (Mach 1.24), consequentially breaking the sound barrier (Mach 1.1). However, Felix was unable to beat his mentor’s Col. Joe Kittinger’s longest free fall record (four and a half minutes) when Kittenger jumped from a helium envelope in 1960.
These incredible speeds were possible with Felix forming the stable aerodynamic Delta position (head down, arms swept back) immediately after jumping. Yet adopting this position proved less than easy, the live feed showed him spinning rapidly before his 2,500 previous skydive experiences kicked in enabling him to conform to the planned position.
Felix is no stranger to record breaking feats, the stuntman cut his teeth in aero-acrobatics at the fresh age of 16 with Austrian’s military demonstration and competition team in 1985. In the next decade he moved onto Base jumping and set the world record for the highest parachute jump from a building (Petronas Towers, Kaula Lumpur). Baumgartner then decided to glide across the English Channel using specially-made carbon fibre wings in just 14 minutes.
Baumgartner has said he is motivated in part by scientific endeavour, the desire to see what the human body can achieve. Baumgartner survived the freezing high altitude conditions and the high speed descent because he was wearing the next generation of full-pressure suit; designed for future astronauts. However his focus and physical agility to break out of the 700 mph tumble into the Delta position are a true testament to his super human character.
The project also set out to with the scientific pretext to investigate ‘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’.
The death defying dare devil concluded the experience at the post jump news conference: “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,”