Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - Faster than a speeding bullet: Austrian skydiver leaps into the history books

Supersonic skydiver Felix Baumgartner took to the skies on Sunday afternoon in a historic bid that saw him become the first human being to travel faster than the speed of sound in freefall.

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 15 October

Faster than a speeding bullet: Austrian skydiver leaps into the history books


Supersonic skydiver Felix Baumgartner took to the skies on Sunday afternoon in a historic bid that saw him become the first human being to travel faster than the speed of sound in freefall.

More than 8 million people watched the 43-year-old Austrian – known as Fearless Felix – jump from a balloon 24 miles above the New Mexico desert and freefall from the edge of space.

After a two hour journey up, it took Mr Baumgartner just under ten minutes to land back on Earth, reaching speeds of up to 725mph, breaking the sound barrier at Mach 1.24 and smashing three world records in the process.

The records he achieved were:

- The fastest freefall after reaching a top speed of 834mph (1,342km/h)

- Becoming the first human being to break the sound barrier in freefall.

- In reaching 128,100ft above Earth, he exceeded the altitude for the highest ever manned balloon flight – the previous record was held by Victor Prather and Malcolm Ross, who made it to 113,720ft in 1961.

When he landed in Roswell – famed for its UFO sightings – Mr Baumgartner dropped to his knees and raised his arms in victory.

There were tense moments in the control room early in the dive as Mr Baumgartner began to spin laterally out of control, free-falling head-over-heels.

Speaking afterwards at a press conference, Mr Baumgartner said: “In that situation, when you spin around, it's like hell and you don't know if you can get out of that spin or not.”

To the relief of everyone watching, including his mother, Ava, Mr Baumgartner was able to use his considerable skydiving experience and regain control before releasing his parachute.

Mr Baumgartner wore a specially designed survival suit, similar to those worn by astronauts, to keep his body intact against the varying atmospheric pressures, with three cameras attached to record his descent. The risks in making such a jump included the possibility of his blood boiling and his organs exploding.

Although the jump was thought by many to be a daredevil stunt, Mr Baumgartner’s team were keen to stress its high scientific relevance. Its success will help to inform the development of new ideas for emergency evacuation from airborne vehicles, such as spacecraft, passing through the stratosphere.

Baumgartner’s mentor, Joe Kittinger, now in his eighties, was the previous world record holder of the highest freefall jump. He provided the younger man with advice and encouragement during the seven-year build-up to his daring adventure. Mr Kittinger’s was the only voice Baumgartner heard in the control room.

“Felix did a great job and it was a great honour to work with this brave guy,” Mr Kittinger said. Mr Baumgartner said in the end all his thoughts were about getting back alive: “When I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble, you don't think about breaking records.

“Sometimes you have to go up really high to see how small you are.”





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