Friday, October 19, 2012

Free Fall From Space

Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner fell to Earth from 24 miles up Sunday, enrapturing millions of people following a live feed of his stunt as he became the first human being to travel faster than the speed of sound without the assistance of a craft.

During a four-minute, 20-second free fall, he reached a speed of Mach 1.24 or 833.9 miles per hour, according to an official with the National Aeronautic Association.

The data on Baumgartner’s jump is preliminary until verified by international authorities, including those in Austria, Baumgartner’s home country.

He stands to have broken three records: the highest jump from a platform, the longest free fall without a drogue parachute and the highest vertical velocity.

“These are mind-blowing numbers,” Baumgartner said at a news conference later. “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 you want to come back alive.”

When asked how it felt to travel faster than the speed of sound, Baumgartner said it was “hard to describe” because he “didn’t feel it at all.” The pressurized suit operated much like a casket, protecting him against the thin air and keeping his bodily fluids from essentially boiling at the high altitude.

Baumgartner, 43, completed his historic sky-dive above ­Roswell, N.M., a location chosen for its favorable weather conditions — a critical component of the high-risk mission. He was guided throughout the feat by retired Air Force Col. Joseph Kittinger, who held the previous record for highest sky-dive, for his 1960 jump from a balloon just over 19 miles up.

Baumgartner, clearly proud of what he and his team had achieved, said that he looked forward to being in Kittinger’s shoes in the future and guiding another aspiring supersonic traveler to achieve the dream of falling from the edge of space.