A Man Who Fell from Space to Earth – We already know about aircraft that travel at supersonic speeds. That’s mind-boggling on its own. But what about a human doing the same? You know, without the plane! One man flew faster than the speed of sound while free falling 120,000 feet from space. So, am I talking about Superman? Well, close but not exactly.
Before we continue, let me know in the comments if you ever want to fly faster than the speed of sound. Felix Baumgartner is an Austrian Skydiver and a bit of a daredevil. A bit? Ha. He was born in 1969 in a small city called Salzburg, in Austria. Ever since he was little, he loved heights, and his life-long dream was to become a skydiver.
Until he had the means to achieve his goal, he was working as a mechanic and repairing motorcycles. Felix kept fantasizing about the time he would soar the skies like a superhero. He began working on his goal at the age of 16, and he acquired some impeccable skills. He became part of Austria’s military demonstration and exhibition team, where he excelled.
He considers the air his home, so he built a stunning portfolio filled with all his stunts. That was when Red Bull noticed his talent. By 1988, Felix started doing skydiving exhibitions for the well-known company Even though his job as a skydiver was filled with adrenaline and excitement, it got tiring for Felix at some point.
So, approximately 2 years later in 1990, he’d had enough. He was done with boring traditional skydiving and broadened his skills to include BASE Jumping. For the non-height-adrenaline enthusiasts out there, BASE is an acronym for four things you can jump from. Buildings, Antennas, Spans and Earth. In fact, BASE jumping is one of the most dangerous sports in the world.
In 1999, he achieved his first record for the lowest BASE jump. He leaped from the Hand of the “Christ the Redeemer” statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Felix transformed from a regular sky-diver into a daredevil. He would parachute from different fixed objects all the way down to the ground. And his sky-diving experience would prove impeccable.
He was now an expert in both high altitude and low altitude dives. Both his portfolio and resume kept improving. He held two World Records for the highest dive from a building. The first one was in Malaysia in 1999. Here, he jumped 1,479 feet from the Petronas twin towers. The second one was from an even taller building in Taiwan, where he made a legendary 1,669 feet dive.
After that, 14 more World Records followed from his BASE Jumps. That was when he was first nicknamed Fearless Felix. And his achievements started getting more and more thrilling. He was the first person in the whole world to Cross the English Channel with a pair of carbon wings; and the first person to fly next to an airplane.
But his most mind-boggling achievement came with the Red Bull Stratos Project on October 14th, 2012. When Felix was 43 years old, he made his life-long dream come to life. He became the first skydiver to travel faster than the speed of sound. So how did he achieve that?Well folks, here’s where it gets more interesting.
Felix expressed his desire to surpass Kittinger’s record by far. Who? You see, back in the day, there was another legendary man named Joseph Kittinger. He was an Air Force Command Pilot, and in the 1960s he performed the highest dive in history. Joe jumped from a helium balloon, and set his marks for the longest, farthest, and highest free fall.
His exit altitude was at 102,800 feet, and he fell for more than four and a half minutes before he deployed his parachute. That was the record Felix wanted to beat. Now, don’t get me wrong; travelling faster than the speed of sound is exciting, but how fast are we talking here? Well, let’s free fall into some sciency stuff.
The speed of sound is calculated by a Mach Number. That number compares the speed of an object – in this case future Felix – to the speed of sound. When something approaches the speed of sound, they get close to the Mach number 1. Now in order for someone to reach Mach 1, they need to be travelling more than 767 mph.
So, when a person travels above that number, they break the sound barrier. Many military and research aircraft have achieved this, but never a person free falling from above the stratosphere. Not until Felix put the idea into his mind. In 2005, some serious discussions began between Red Bull and Felix about breaking that record.
So, everyone put their thinking caps on and started working on it. They had some difficulties with their budget, and then technical challenges followed. What fearless Felix was proposing was extremely dangerous, even for a guy who’d performed more than 2,500 jumps. Baum gartner’s team put together an advanced capsule that would operate as Felix’s controlled climate during his ascent to 120,000 ft.
For the legendary fall, Felix had an innovative pressure suit built by the same company that provides astronauts with their flight suits. The researchers on the Red Bull Stratos project were so competent in their studies, that even Space Craft manufacturers and NASA requested to be informed.
They were developing high-performance and high-altitude parachute systems. Their findings would be proven extremely valuable. Astronauts could use them in case they need to do an emergency evacuation from their spacecraft,and have to pass through the stratosphere. Both his suit and the capsule had all the necessary equipment that he needed through the mission.
It had a heated sun visor which would help him have clear visibility; and he also had an oxygen supply. His suit was specifically coated to keep his body protected. Since the whole mission was going to be recorded, he was equipped with cameras on both his legs and his helmet. His suit also had a mirror that would allow him to keep an eye on his parachute.
He had an altimeter, a bunch of other high-tech equipment, and the most valuable thing – his courage. During the mission, he needed someone by his side that he could trust to guide him through. So, Felix invited the man whose record he wanted to beat to help him with it. Joseph Kittinger was the person who would be in constant communication with him during his fall.
After extensive training, the record-breaking day had arrived. It was October 14th, 2012. As they were going through some last-minute checks, they discovered that the heated sun visor on the helmet had stopped working, which meant that every time Felix exhaled it will fog up, and he would lose visibility.
That terrified him, and put them on the verge of cancelling the mission. But the team who put the equipment together took a calculated risk to continue with the task after they understood what the problem was. Baumgartner climbed to 128,100 feet with the high-tech balloon. The sliding doors of the capsule opened, and his most thrilling and terrifying experience began.
He jumped! But then something went wrong again. During the dive, everyone thought that Felix was in trouble because he was expected to get into a delta position. His head had to be down and his arms back. But the people watching saw that he didn’t jump, he just dropped, which caused a bit of worry.
But you see, this guy had performed thousands of free falls, so he was able to position himself shortly after that little stumble. As he was falling, his speed was accelerating, and so was his heart rate. He could see the earth’s curve. He was both amazed and terrified. He was rapidly falling, and within 35 seconds, he broke the sound barrier.
His heart rate went up to 170 beats per minute. Soon he achieved a Mach speed of 1.24. That’s about 950 mph free falling. The moment he reached his maximum velocity, he slowed down. He was in a free fall for 4 minutes and 20 seconds before deploying his parachute at 8,200 ft. Once he touched the ground, he fell to his knees and raised his arms in victory.
A representative from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale was the first person to greet him. The helicopter recovery teams arrived shortly after. His mission was a success, despite the minor difficulties. His excitement for the supersonic fall that broke all the records was indescribable. Can he break another record shortly? Who knows? One thing is for sure, nothing can keep Felix Baumgartner away from the sky.