After 5 years of preparation, a lawsuit, a 96,000-foot test jump, and wind that twice delayed his attempt, Felix Baumgartner finally made the highest and fastest jump in history yesterday. “I know the whole world is watching, and I wish the whole world could see what I see,” he said as he stood 128,100 feet above the Earth. “Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you really are.” Then he jumped.
Baumgartner, 43, was delivered to those great heights by 40-acre, ultrathin plastic balloon—the largest ever made for a manned flight—attached to a bell-shaped, pressurized capsule that contained 10 hours of oxygen in the event that he had to ride it back down. The previous record holder, Joe Kittinger (who jumped from 102,800 feet as part of Project Manhigh in 1960) served as CAPCOM, or capsule communicator, and guided Baumgartner through the mission.
When he leapt, Baumgartner—who was already an accomplished BASE jumper—plummeted in a free fall for 4 minutes and 20 seconds. He fell 119,846 feet, reaching 833.9mph (Mach 1.24) and breaking the speed of sound, before deploying his parachute.
Though the jump was a success, it was by no means picture perfect: On the ascent, Baumgartner reported a problem with the device that heated his faceplate, which caused it to fog up. During the freefall, his faceplate fogged, his leg swelled up, and he went into a flat spin and barrel roll. “There was a period of time I thought I was in real trouble,” he said at the press conference after the jump. He had the option to use his emergency drogue chute, which would have stabilized him. “I knew if I pushed that button I would not go supersonic. I somehow have to make that call: Do I push that button and stay alive, or do I push through and break the speed of sound?" The drogue would have deployed automatically if the sensors on his suit registered over 3.5 Gs for more than 6 seconds, but Baumgartner was able to quickly stablize himself and maneuver into position to break the speed of sound.
Baumgartner broke three records on the Red Bull-sponsored mission: fastest free fall, highest manned balloon flight, and highest freefall (Kittinger’s record for longest freefall—4 minutes, 36 seconds—still stands). Scientists will use the data to help future pilots, astronauts and space travelers survive. But Baumgartner said that as he stood on top of the world, he wasn't thinking about any of that. “You become so humble," he said. "You do not think about breaking records anymore. You do not think about gaining scientific data. The only thing you want is you want to come back alive.”
UPDATE: Now you can see part of Baumgartner's jump from his point of view—check out the video from the headcam he wore during the jump: