On Sunday, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner made a parachute jump from a high altitude balloon and became the first human to break the sound barrier unassisted as part of the Red Bull Stratos mission.
Breaking the sound barrier isn’t that hard under certain circumstances. You can it do at home just by whipping a towel, but for a person to break the sound barrier in the air requires some drastic steps, like jumping out of a capsule at 39,000 meters (128,000 feet), where there’s almost no air resistance.
This jump came on the 65th anniversary of Chuck Yeager’s first supersonic flight and broke five world records: largest manned balloon (1,000,000 cubic meters), highest manned balloon flight and highest parachute jump (39,000 meters), fastest free-fall (373 meters per second, or 834 miles per hour), and farthest free-fall (36,500 meters, or 119,800 feet). Baumgartner fell 16 seconds short of a sixth record: longest free fall, which still stands at 4:36, partly because he fell faster than expected.
But one of the coolest parts of this mission was that Felix Baumgartner’s ground controller was none other than Colonel Joe Kittinger, who set two of the records that Baumgartner broke and still holds the longest free-fall record that he set back in 1960. At a press conference, Baumgartner said that, instead of topping his own feat, his hope for the future is to someday help someone from the next generation to break his records.
Baumgartner’s jump was not really from the “edge of space”, as was advertised. That line is much higher, at 100,000 meters (328,000 feet). Yet, it was far more than just a publicity stunt for Red Bull. The jump provided valuable information about the effects of high speeds and altitudes on the human body, which will be used to design next generation pressure suits and safety systems for astronauts–the same reason Kittinger made his jump 52 years ago. With all the private rockets and space planes that are now in development, they’ll certainly be able to use it.