On Sunday, October 14, “Fearless” Felix Baumgartner traveled to the edge of space and took one small step for man—and one really, really giant leap for…that same man (and, yes, for mankind, as well).
The Austrian daredevil became the first man to skydive from the stratosphere, rising to an altitude of 128,100 feet—more than 24 miles—in a helium-balloon powered capsule. After countless safety checks, with more than 8 million viewers watching live from around the world, Baumgartner stepped onto a skateboard-sized ledge overlooking the radiating blue sphere and the blackness of space. "I know the whole world is watching, and I wish the whole world could see what I see. Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you really are,” he said. “I’m coming home.”
And with that, the 43-year-old ex-military skydiver stepped forward—and plummeted. For 4 minutes and 20 seconds Baumgartner fell, accelerating until he broke the speed of sound with his body alone, topping out at a record-breaking 834 mph, or Mach 1.24.
Baumgartner—and the Red Bull Stratos team—broke into uncharted territory with the space dive’s success. The daredevil not only became the first to achieve supersonic speeds with his body alone—coincidentally, exactly 65 years after Chuck Yeager first accomplished the feat flying an experimental rocket—but also nabbed records for the highest freefall and the highest manned balloon flight.
One record that was not broken, though, was for the longest time spent in freefall—a record that is still held by Baumgartner’s mentor, 84-year-old Joe Kittinger, who leapt from 102,800 feet and fell for 4 minutes, 38 seconds in 1960. (Baumgartner remained in freefall for 4 minutes and 20 seconds.)
It was also Kittinger’s deep, calming voice you heard talk Felix through the 2-plus hour cramped ascent—including the hiccup that occurred when Baumgartner’s face plate wouldn’t heat properly, causing his helmet to fog and his vision to be compromised. Kittinger sent his protégé off with his final instructions: “All right, step up on the exterior step. Start the cameras. And our guardian angel will take care of you now.”
Watch the highlights:
Or relive the action now:
- The helium balloon that lifted Felix to 128,100 feet is larger than the Statue of Liberty.
- What did Felix fear the most? Spinning out of control in the thin air to his (very gruesome) end: “At a certain R.P.M.,” Baumgartner said afterward, “there’s only one way for blood to leave your body, and that’s through your eyeballs. That means you’re dead. That was what we feared most.”