Man skydives from the edge of space (24 miles above Earth), breaks the sound barrier, and lives to tell about it

What did you do this weekend? Whatever it is, I bet it isn’t as amazing as what Felix Baumgartner did — jump from the edge of space.

Baumgartner, a 44 Austrian skydiver, took an air balloon up 128,100 feet (24 miles, 39km) above New Mexico, United States and jumped. In case you are wondering, 24 miles high in the sky isn’t technically being in space but it is sure damn close; to put it into perspective, commercial flights fly at roughly 1/3 the altitude Baumgartner jumped from. In fact, Baumgartner had to sit in a special pressurized capsule while ascending to the great height and had to jump in a specially designed suit — similar to what astronauts wear — to protect himself from the hazards in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Baumgartner fell a total distance of 119,846 feet in free fall in the “delta” position (head tucked in, arms behind his back) before deploying his parachute for the reminder of the fall to Earth. It took him a total of 4 minutes and 19 seconds to travel that 119,846 feet distance in free fall during which he broke the sound barrier, reaching a maximum velocity of 833.9 MPH (1,342 KM/h). The remainder of the distance, after deploying his parachute, took another five minutes, making the total jump time roughly 10 minutes (9 minute and 3 seconds, to be exact).

Check out the following video, which shows the jump as it happened:

Baumgartner has been planning this jump since 2005 and would have actually jumped on Oct 9 had bad wind not come in the way. Even on Sunday Oct 14 when he finally made the jump, Baumgartner hit a small glitch prior to jumping when his helmet visor fogged up due to a broken hearter. The obstacle was eventually overcome and Baumgartner took the leap… well actually it was a bunny hop, but who cares about semantics. I wonder what would had happened if the foggy visor problem was not solved — would someone send a rescue mission to retrieve the lad from the edge of space?

Thanks to this stunt Baumgartner broke a few world records. The first record he broke is the highest flight ever in an air balloon, when he ascended to the 128,100 feet height. The second record he broke is being the first person ever to break the sound barrier without an aircraft. The third, and potentially most significant, record Baumgartner now holds is the record for the highest ever skydive. The previous record was held by US Air Force Col Joe Kittinger who jumped from 102,800 feet in 1960 in connection with a US Air Force mission. Unfortunately, Baumgartner didn’t break the record of longest time spent in free fall — Kittinger still holds that record with 4 minutes and 30 seconds.

Interestingly enough, the jump wasn’t just for kicks and giggles. According to the Red Bull Stratos team, the team that worked with Baumgartner for the jump, valuable scientfice data was gathered during Baumgartner’s skydive — data that will be used by aeronautical entities, including NASA, to save lives by helping develop emergency exit procedures for spacecraft.

Damn. I’m almost speechless.

[via BBC, Red Bull blog]

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