London, Oct 15: Austrian national Felix Baumgartner, who jumped from a height of 39 km, became the first skydiver to record the highest ever freefall and also the first human to go faster than the speed of sound.
During his skydive from a special pressurised capsule carried by a helium balloon, the 43-year-old Baumgartner reached a maximum velocity of 1,342 km per hour, BBC reported.
The jump from above New Mexico took just under 10 minutes. The last few thousand feet were negotiated by parachute.
After landing, the skydiver fell to his knees and raised his fists in triumph.
“Let me tell you, when I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble. You don’t think about breaking records anymore, you don’t think about gaining scientific data, the only thing that you want is to come back alive,” BBC quoted Baumgartner as saying.
BBC, however, said the new marks set by Baumgartner will have to be officially endorsed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI). GPS data recorded on a microcard in the Austrian’s chest pack will form the basis for the height and speed claims.
These will be submitted formally through the Aerosport Club of Austria for certification.
Baumgartner came into trouble early into the dive. He was supposed to get himself into a delta position – head down, arms swept back – as soon as possible after leaving his capsule. But he tumbled over and over.
Eventually, he was able to use his great experience, from more than 2,500 career dives, to correct his fall and get into a stable configuration.
The attempt was almost called off, after it was found that a heater for his visor was not working, and the visor fogged up as he exhaled.
Baumgartner was attempting to break the records of retired US Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger, who was acting as his radio link in mission control at Roswell airport.
Kittinger set his marks for the highest, farthest, and longest freefall when he leapt from a helium envelope in 1960. His altitude was 31 km.
His record for the longest freefall remains intact. The man fell for more than four and a half minutes before deploying his chute, while Baumgartner was in freefall for four minutes and 20 seconds.
“Felix did a great job and it was a great honour to work with this brave guy,” Kittinger said.
Baumgartner’s team built a special pressurised capsule to protect him on the way up, and for his descent he wore a full pressure suit made by the same company that prepares the flight suits of astronauts.
In getting to 128,100 feet, Baumgartner exceeded the altitude for the highest ever manned balloon flight achieved by Victor Prather and Malcolm Ross, who ascended to 113,720 feet in 1961.
However, as he did not bring the balloon down, the Austrian’s altitude will forever remain just an unofficial mark.
Describing his record-breaking jump from the stratosphere, he said: “The exit was perfect but then I started spinning slowly. I thought I’d just spin a few times and that would be that, but then I started to speed up. It was really brutal at times. I thought for a few seconds that I’d lose consciousness.”
“It was really a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. It was an incredible up and down today, just like it’s been with the whole project,” the redbullstratos.com website quoted Baumgartner as saying.
“I didn’t feel a sonic boom because I was so busy just trying to stabilize myself,” he said.