Felix Baumgartner jumps from stratosphere, breaks sound barrier

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Mexico desert
Image: John Phelan.

Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner, aged 43, performed a jump Sunday from 39 km above the Earth's surface using a full-pressure suit, a parachute canopy, a capsule, and a helium balloon. Baumgartner broke the sound barrier as his top speed reached 1342 km/h (834 miles per hour), exceeding the speed of sound, and landing in the New Mexico desert, United States.

The jump follows several days of waiting for atmospheric winds to decrease to make sure the jump would be safe, and the capsule would not be blown away.

A balloon with 850 megalitres (30 million cubic feet) of helium took over two hours to lift the Red Bull Stratos capsule to a 39 km altitude in the stratosphere, 2 km higher than expected, breaking a 1961 manned balloon record of 34.7 km (113,740 feet).

While the capsule ascended, a helmet faceplate heater failed. Exhalation fogged the faceplate and affected vision. Baumgartner proceeded with the jump anyway.

Baumgartner jumped with his head down to increase speed. A quick jump was essential to minimise the risk of spinning out of control which could make the skydiver lose consciousness.

Baumgartner's suit was equipped with devices to document the jump, including a camera. They also included tools to measure altitude, speed and location, and to report them to the mission control center.

After the successful jump, Baumgartner said, "When I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble, you do not think about breaking records anymore, you do not think about gaining scientific data. The only thing you want is to come back alive. ... Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are".

The project was sponsored by Austrian Red Bull energy drinks company.


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