A Leap From the Edge of Space
Daredevil Felix Baumgartner successfully completed the highest skydive ever
Baumgartner has trained for this event for five years. (Ross D. Franklin / AP Images)
This past Sunday, skydiver Felix Baumgartner completed his final daredevil dive—by leaping from the edge of space. “Fearless Felix,” as he has been called, broke the record for the highest skydive ever by leaping from a height of 128,100 feet! That’s 24 miles above Earth’s surface.
His free fall, or the part of the fall before releasing a parachute, lasted for four minutes and 19 seconds. At one point, Baumgartner was falling at a speed of 833.9 miles per hour. That’s faster than the speed of sound! He is the only human being outside of a vehicle to achieve this speed, which is usually reached only by special jets.
Accomplishing this feat was no easy task. Launching from Roswell, New Mexico, a balloon carried Baumgartner in a capsule to his jump height. He then had to complete a 40-step checklist before he was cleared for the jump. A team in Roswell monitored his fall. But even with this level of support, Baumgartner’s dive was extremely dangerous.
Baumgartner wore a special 100-pound spacesuit to protect his body from deadly conditions high in the air. Because of the low pressure in this part of the atmosphere, his blood and other bodily fluids would begin to boil if his skin was exposed to air. So his suit approximated, or got close to, air pressure on the ground. It also protected him from the extreme cold at that height.
At one point in the jump, Baumgartner’s visor started to fog up. Then he began spinning out of control. This could have caused him to lose consciousness and might have resulted in permanent damage to his body.
“There was a period of time where I really thought, ‘I am in trouble,’ ” Baumgartner said after landing. Thankfully, he had been able to regain control and release his parachute safely.
Baumgartner, 43, is from Austria, where he served in the military. He also flies helicopters. His earlier feats include difficult jumps from landmarks such as the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia. Even with all this experience, he has been training for this event for the past five years.
Baumgartner’s jump did more than break records. The data collected from his fall will help NASA develop stronger and safer spacesuits for astronauts. He also may have inspired dreams of flight in the more than 8 million viewers who watched his fall live on YouTube.
Baumgartner now plans to retire from being a daredevil and fly rescue helicopters.
“It’s hard to realize what happened because there’s still so many emotions,” Baumgartner told the press after the event. “I had tears in my eyes when I was coming back [to Earth] a couple of times because you’re sitting there, and you thought about that moment so many times.”