A skydiver has made history by smashing the world record for the highest skydive after leaping from 128,097ft.
Daredevil Felix Baumgartner ascended to the edge of space in a pressurised capsule suspended beneath a giant helium balloon. He then jumped out, freefalling for four minutes and 19 seconds before opening his parachute.
The 43-year-old Austrian also broke the record for the highest manned balloon flight after riding with the capsule 24 miles above New Mexico.
He also achieved the fastest freefall after reaching a top speed of 834mph (1,342km/h) and broke the sound barrier, according to mission spokeswoman Sarah Anderson.
The speed – revealed at a news conference a few hours after the leap – was significantly higher than that given earlier by a spokeswoman, who had put his maximum speed as 706mph (1,136km/h).
A minor problem had developed as Baumgartner’s capsule ascended when a heater failed on his helmet faceplate, which meant his visor became fogged when he exhaled. However, it was not enough to stop him jumping.
In a nail-biting event watched live around the world, Baumgartner stepped to the edge of the capsule and saluted the camera, before saying: “Sometimes you have to go up really high to realise how small you are.”
The biggest risk Baumgartner faced was spinning out of control, which could have exerted enough G-forces to make him lose consciousness.
At one point he appeared to have become unstable, but he managed to get himself into a flat, controlled position for the rest of the skydive.
Temperatures of -68C (-90 Fahrenheit) could also have had unpredictable consequences if his suit had failed.
He had been due to jump from 120,000ft, but the balloon went higher than expected, to just under 128,000ft.
The previous record for the highest jump was held by Colonel Joe Kittinger, who jumped at an altitude of 102,800ft (31,333m) in 1960.
Bamgartner’s leap was watched by Baumgartner’s tearful mother Eva and by Col Kittinger, who co-ordinated the jump from mission control.
Col Kittinger told the man who went on to break his record for the highest jump: “Our guardian angel will take care of you.”
However, the Austrian was unable to break Col Kittinger’s record for the longest time spent in freefall. Baumgartner’s total of four minutes and 19 seconds fell 17 seconds short.
The reason for the shorter-than-expected freefall was not immediately clear, although live commentary during the leap suggested he opened his parachute at an altitude above the 5,000ft level that had been announced in advance.
The Red Bull Stratos mission was the second attempt for the skydiver. An initial bid last week was aborted at the last minute due to the wind.
Some folks dismiss this as a corporate shill act just to sell an “energy” drink that’s full of sugar and caffeine. And they’d only be partially correct.
The fact is that Baumgartner and Red Bull Stratos had to design the “spacesuit” from scratch, and with no help from NASA.
There is no doubt in my mind that private launch companies like Virgin Galactic, XCOR, Bigelow and probably even SpaceX will show interest in the modern design of the suit with it’s emergency egress capabilities.
Kudos to Felix and Red Bull!