On this day in 2012, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner jumped from a capsule attached to a helium balloon approximately 38km above Earth and became the first person to break the sound barrier without the protection or propulsion of a vehicle.
After making his record-setting jump, which was witnessed live by a global audience via cameras mounted on his capsule, the 43-year-old Baumgartner landed safely in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico.
The Austrian’s record-breaking 2012 jump was more than five years in the making and involved a team of engineers, scientists and other aeronautic experts who custom-designed Baumgartner’s equipment, including his pressurised space suit (intended to prevent his blood from boiling at high altitudes) and 1,8m, 1 315kg pressurised capsule. In 2010 the project, which was financed by energy drink company Red Bull, hit a roadblock when Baumgartner started having panic attacks while undergoing endurance tests in his pressurised suit and helmet.
However, a sports psychologist eventually helped him learn to cope with his claustrophobia.
On the morning of 14 October 2012, a 167m-high helium balloon made of 16 hectares of ultra-thin plastic lifted the capsule carrying Baumgartner, nicknamed “Fearless Felix,” from the launch site at Roswell International Air Center. After reaching an altitude of 38 969m, Baumgartner stepped off the capsule and plunged toward Earth.
His descent took nine minutes and 18 seconds – four minutes and 20 seconds of it in a free fall of 36 402m, during which he reached a top speed of 1 356,68 kmp/h, or Mach 1,25. Specially designed cameras positioned inside and outside of his capsule, as well as on the ground, enabled millions of people around the world to watch Baumgartner live online and on television.
At an altitude of 2 566,7m above sea level, he deployed his parachute and went on to land smoothly in the desert.
In addition to breaking the sound barrier, Baumgartner also set a new record for the highest altitude jump. The previous record holder, Joseph Kittinger, skydived from an altitude of 31 333,44m in 1960.
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