Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner broke the speed of sound by jumping from the highest altitude anyone has ever dared freefall from, 39,045 meters above ground, which would place him squarely inside the stratosphere! Baumgartner is no spring chicken: at 43 years of age, he’s unquestionably in excellent shape. However, the reality is that he only managed to conquer the skies because his 84-year-old mentor Joe Kittinger virtually pushed him out of the capsule door.
But let’s take things from the top: Colonel Joe Kittinger, an ace jet pilot who spent 11 months in a North Vietnamese prison during the Vietnam War, originally set an enviable record. For on August 16, 1960, he executed the highest balloon ascent, highest parachute jump and longest drogue-fall, thereby becoming the fastest human being to penetrate the atmosphere. And for 52 years, nobody could challenge his reign. 'There is a reason my record has stood for so long,' Kittinger proudly states. 'This is a calculated risk, you understand the risks that you know about, but there are always unknowns. The biggest unknown we face is that nobody has transited the sound barrier without the aid of an aircraft.' That up until this past Sunday...
video © Red Bull STRATOS
On October 14, 2012, B.A.S.E. jumper, skydiver and all-around adventurer Felix Baumgartner, became the only supersonic human on earth, making good on the 'Born to Fly' promise tattooed across his arm. Although the fearless Austrian spent a lifetime eyeing that record and five years preparing for the historic Stratos mission (sponsored by Red Bull and manned by a staff of 200), he would never have gotten there if it wasn’t for Joe Kittinger himself!
The former air force pilot was the only person who could talk to Baumgartner as he looked down on a black sky, ready for his historic sky dive. 'There it is the world is out there,' he told his protégé. 'Our guardian angel will take care of you now.' Dangling from a 55-story balloon, Baumgartner disconnected himself from his capsule and leaped into space. 'It's like swimming without touching the water' he said afterwards. But for a few moments all seemed lost. For 35 seconds he span out of control due to last-minute trouble with his visor heater. In the end though, his landing on the New Mexico dessert was pure perfection and the seasoned skydiver remained conscious throughout his supersonic fall.
Within the 4min and 20sec timeframe, he became the first human to break the speed of sound in a freefall, breaking the record for the highest free-fall altitude and highest manned balloon flight as well.
Joe Kittinger hasn’t altogether been outdone though, as he still holds the record for the longest freefall. When asked what he was planning to do next, his student and No.1 fan simply confessed that he still aspires to take his place: 'Honestly I want to inspire the next generation,' said Baumgartner. 'I would love it if there was a young guy sitting next to me asking what my advice is, wanting to break my record.' And who know, maybe one day, someone will…
''On the way up without even opening the capsule door you can find yourself in a life or death situation. So it's extremely dangerous.''
Mike Todd, Red Bull Stratos Life Support Engineer
video © Red Bull STRATOS
More than 35 cameras captured the entire Red Bull Stratos mission. Watch this point of view where Felix stands at the edge of his capsule and jumps.
''It's like swimming without touching the water''