Well, he’s done it. Felix Baumgartner has set a new world record for a high altitude skydive, and preliminary reports are saying that he did break the speed of sound during the fall.
Baumgartner, the 43-year-old Austrian daredevil launched this morning a little before 9 MCT; slightly behind schedule but the delay had no impact on the jump. It took over two hours for the massive helium balloon to carry the capsule to the planned jump altitude of 120,000, but it wasn’t a boring ascent. Baumgartner’s capcom Joe Kittinger, who set the record for a high altitude jump in 1960 with a height of 102,800 feet, kept tabs on the flight and the pre-jump checklist.
Finally, a little over 127,000 feet – 27,000 feet above his planned jump height – Baumgartner depressurized the capsule. The door automatically opened when the pressure inside the capsule matched that outside, and he scooted forward to stand on the ledge. He ran through his final checks – parachute, helmet attachement – looking down. Standing that high makes you see how small you really are, Baumgartner said. Just before he jumped, he added “I’m going home.”
He fell for 4 minutes and 22 seconds before releasing the parachute; that’s just short of Kittinger’s record of 4 minutes and 36 seconds. During the free fall, ground tracking clocked Baumgartner’s top speed at 729 miles per hour. The Mach number of the fall is awaiting calculation. Mission scientists need Baumgartner’s actual altitude at the time of peak speed to figure out the Mach number, but early estimates are optimistic he broke Mach 1.
At 12:16 MCT, Baumgartner landed on his feet in New Mexico. Recovery crews were on hand but he didn’t seem to need any help. He stood up and shook hands with recovery personnel while a photographer snapped shots from every angle. His family, meanwhile, celebrated in mission control. The capsule was separated from the balloon and descended by parachute after Baumgartner landed.
It was, even for those watching on YouTube, an exciting Sunday morning.