Skydiver Felix Baumgartner completes record jump
Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner has landed back on Earth after a record-breaking jump from 38 km above New Mexico.
Baumgartner set the record for highest manned balloon flight and highest altitude jump.
The daredevil lifted off overnight in hopes of making his delayed skydive from a balloon flying 36.5 kilometres above the planet and breaking the sound barrier.
Cheers broke out as the craft took flight at 4.30am. The enormous balloon rose, then pulled into the air a capsule containing Felix Baumgartner, 43.
His mother wept as she watched the launch, which had been scrapped several times during the previous week by high winds.
The descent from the stratosphere should last just 15 to 20 minutes, more than half of it beneath the relative safety of his parachute’s canopy.
The 850,000-cubic-metre plastic balloon, is about one-tenth the thickness of a Ziploc bag, or roughly as thin as a dry cleaner bag.
Baumgartner aims to break a 52-year-old high altitude parachute jump record held by project adviser Joe Kittinger. In 1960, Kittinger, now a retired US Air Force colonel, jumped from a balloon flying at 31,333 metres and fell for 4 minutes and 36 seconds before opening his parachute.
There is so little air in the upper reaches of the atmosphere that after about 30 seconds of freefall, Baumgartner should have been moving faster than the speed of sound, which is roughly 1110 km/h at that altitude.
Among the risks Baumgartner faced was the chance that his supersonic body will trigger shock waves that could collide with the force of an explosion. But Baumgartner’s medical team did not believe this situation was very likely because the air in the stratosphere would be too thin to carry the waves.
Baumgartner was expected stay supersonic for about a minute before hitting a thicker part of the atmosphere, slowing his fall.
No human had previously broken the sound barrier during freefall, at least not intentionally. On January 25, 1966, Bill Weaver, a US test pilot aboard an SR-71 Blackbird aircraft, was ejected from his damaged plane at Mach 3.18 – more than three times faster than the speed of sound – and survived.
“It goes to show there are still challenges to overcome and you should never lose sight of trying to achieve them,” Baumgartner said in an interview posted on the project’s website .
Besides breaking several records, including highest-altitude freefall, longest freefall and highest manned balloon flight, Baumgartner and his team hope the jump will help engineers working on spacesuits for NASA and the budding commercial space tourism industry.
One company, Virgin Galactic, an offshoot of Richard Branson’s London-based Virgin Group, expects to begin passenger suborbital spaceflights in late 2013 or 2014. SpaceShipTwo, the first of Virgin’s planned fleet, is undergoing testing in Mojave, California, and is expected to make its first foray beyond the atmosphere before the end of the year.
When Baumgartner jumped from a capsule beneath the balloon, the position of his body was crucial since there was no air in which he could reposition himself. If he falls in a way that puts him into a rapid spin, Baumgartner could pass out and damage his eyes, brain and cardiovascular system.
Baumgartner’s safety gear includes a custom spacesuit to protect him from the low pressure and the extreme cold.
Temperatures were expected to be as low as about minus-70 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 57 degrees Celsius). The near-vacuum put him at risk of ebullism, a potentially lethal condition in which fluids in the body turn to gas – literally blood boiling. Severe lung damage could occur within minutes.
Red Bull built in a 20-second delay in its live feed of the event in case there was an accident.
Do you have a story or an article to publish? Please email us to email@example.com.