“I’m going home now.”
These were the last words of Felix Baumgartner before he jumped 128,100ft (24.3 miles) to Earth. On October 14, 2012 Felix reached a top speed of an astonishing 833.9 miles per hour, becoming the first man to not only reach but surpass the speed of sound by maxing out at Mach 1.24. In comparison, a Boeing 747 passenger plane’s cruising speed is around 550 mph.
This mission has to be one of the most exciting moments in aerospace that I have ever witnessed. Coverage of the mission was streamed live on YouTube reaching a total of 8 million viewers just before his jump. As Felix reached 120,000 ft and they began the last checklists before the jump my heart began to beat faster and faster. History was about to be made and any number of things could go wrong while in free-fall, this was a life or death moment. In order for the capsule door to open the pressure of the cabin had to be the same as the pressure of the outside out air. As the air of the cabin started falling and eventually reaching about .07 psi Felix could pull the door into the cabin. That door opened and the brightness of the bright blue globe shined in along with the contrast of the deep dark space made for one of the most breathtaking sights I have ever seen. Seconds later he climbs out of his capsule and stood on a ledge no wider than a skateboard. There was a camera directly above him pointing down showing the true distance he has to fall, and it all becomes real.
“Guardian angels will take care of you,” said Mission Control moments before Felix stepped off the capsule and fell to Earth. Mission Control, Felix’s family, the scientific community, and myself held our breath as he left his capsule.
Felix free-fell for 4 minutes and 20 seconds and fell a total of 119,846ft before he deployed his parachute. Minutes later he landed safely on the ground, about 50 miles away from the launch zone. Applause broke out as he touched down safely.
Felix Baumgartner is a hero for many. He broke 3 records during this mission. First, he rode in the highest manned balloon flight. Second, he broke the record for highest skydive. Lastly, he became the fastest skydiver of all time, and I have to repeat this figure because it is so astonishing: he reached terminal velocity at a speed of 833.9 mph. The previous record was 614 mph set by Red Bull Stratos Mission Member, Col. Joseph Kittinger (Ret.) who set that record in 1960.
This mission isn’t simply to break records, though. This five-year mission was designed to test the limits of the human body and the current high-altitude pressure suits. No man has ever fallen from such heights, no man has ever reached such speeds. Analyzing the data of this free fall will be an amazing advance for aerospace science.The data collected from this supersonic jump will be beneficial for safety procedures for high altitude pilots and astronauts, not only for current flights, but flights for future generations. Currently there are no procedures for a bailout during a suborbital (high altitude) flight, which is something that would be needed for an advancement in private and commercial space tourism. The knowledge gained from Felix’s jump is priceless.
I will never forget this day as will many other people around the world. It was an amazing moment for science and for mankind. It shows that man will always strive to push the limits of what is possible. For me this day, October 14, 2012, is a day I will never forget. My parents have the moon-landing of 1969. I have the Red Bull Stratos Mission of 2012.
By: Matthew Zarzeka
Images courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool 2012.