Thursday, October 25, 2012

Felix Baumgartner Takes a Big Fall for Mankind

Let's see. Strap on a pressurized space suit and a parachute, ascend in a hot air balloon to 128,000 feet (24.2 miles) above the earth's surface, take a step off the side, and freefall for 4 minutes and 20 seconds to reach a maximum speed of 833.9 mph (Mach 1.24). Says Felix Baumgartner just before he took that step on October 14:
"I know the whole world is watching right now and I wish the world could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you really are. ... I'm coming home now."
It's not the fall that kills you. The truly impressive fete is that he was able to slow that freefall down and land on his feet in the New Mexico desert. Otherwise, it's a Wile E. Coyote ending, and a man is not a cartoon character who can pick himself up from that.

One downside to going so fast, faster than the speed of sound, is that Felix missed setting the 1960 record for longest freefall by 17 seconds. That was set by Joseph Kittinger who jumped at a mere 102,800 feet. Colonel Kittinger was later shot down over North Vietnam and spent 11 months as a prisoner of war.

Felix will have to settle for the record highest manned balloon flight, highest sky-dive jump, farthest freefall, and fastest freefall speed. These records are subject to verification by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. If they are unable to verify, he'll just have to do it again.

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