Sunday, 14 October 2012

Skydiver Felix Baumgartner lands highest ever jump

Baumgartner stood for several seconds before leaping into the stratosphere

Austrian Felix Baumgartner has broken the record for the highest ever skydive by jumping out of a balloon 128,000ft (39km) above New Mexico.

The 43-year-old was hoping also to break the sound barrier during his descent - although that mark awaits confirmation.

Video cameras relayed the moment Baumgartner stepped from his balloon capsule to begin his fall to Earth.

It took 10 minutes for him to reach the desert surface below.

Only the last few thousand feet were negotiated by parachute.

Helicopter recovery teams have gone to the Austrian's landing site to return him to the mission control centre set up at Roswell airport.

Baumgartner's efforts have finally toppled records that have stood for more than 50 years.

The previous highest, farthest, and longest freefall was made by retired US Air Force Col Joe Kittinger, who leapt from a helium envelope in 1960. His altitude was 102,800ft (31.3km).

Mr Kittinger, now an octogenarian, was on hand to witness the dramatic jump from the stratosphere. Indeed, he acted as "Capcom" - capsule communicator - throughout the ascent and descent, maintaining voice contact with the much younger man.

None of the new marks set by Baumgartner can be classed as "official" until approved by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI).

Its representative in Roswell will analyse GPS data recorded on to a microcard in the Austrian's chest pack. This information will form the basis for any height and speed claims Baumgartner intends to lodge with the FAI.

The adventurer - perhaps best known for leaping off skyscrapers - first discussed the possibility of beating Mr Kittinger's records in 2005.

Since then, he has had to battle technical and budgetary challenges to make it happen.

Deadly feat

What he was proposing was extremely dangerous, even for a man used to those skyscraper stunts.

At an altitude of 120,000ft (36.5km), the air pressure is less than 2% of what it is at sea level, and it is impossible to breathe without an oxygen supply.

Others who have tried to break the records for the highest, fastest and longest freefalls have lost their lives in the process.

Baumgartner's team built him a special pressurised capsule to protect him on the way up, and for his descent he wore a next generation, full pressure suit made by the same company that prepares the flight suits of astronauts.

Although the jump had the appearance of another Baumgartner stunt, his team stressed its high scientific relevance.

The researchers on the Red Bull Stratos project say it has already provided invaluable data for the development of high-performance, high-altitude parachute systems, and that the lessons learned will inform the development of new ideas for emergency evacuation from vehicles, such as spacecraft, passing through the stratosphere.

Nasa and its spacecraft manufacturers have asked to be kept informed.

Jon Clark is the medical director on the team. The former shuttle flight surgeon lost his wife in the Columbia accident in 2003.

He said Baumgartner's experience could help save the lives of future astronauts who get into trouble.

A BBC/National Geographic documentary is being made about the project and will probably be aired in November.


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