Skydiver goes supersonic for record (in Lego too)

Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Featured, Great Big World, Mission to Space | 0 comments

Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria jumps out of the capsule during the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012. In a giant leap from more than 24 miles up, Baumgartner shattered the sound barrier Sunday while making the highest jump ever — a tumbling, death-defying plunge from a balloon to a safe landing in the New Mexico desert. (AP Photo/Red Bull Stratos)

Felix Baumgartner stood alone at the edge of space, poised in the open doorway of a capsule suspended above Earth and wondering if he would make it back alive. Twenty four miles below him, millions of people were right there with him, watching on the Internet and marveling at the wonder of the moment.

A second later, he stepped off the capsule and barreled toward the New Mexico desert as a tiny white speck against a darkly-tinted sky. Millions watched him breathlessly as he shattered the sound barrier and then landed safely about nine minutes later, becoming the world’s first supersonic skydiver.

“When I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble, you do not think about breaking records anymore, you do not think about gaining scientific data,” Baumgartner said after the jump. “The only thing you want is to come back alive.”

The tightly-orchestrated jump meant primarily to entertain became much more than that in the dizzying, breathtaking moment — a collectively shared cross between Neil Armstrong’s moon landing and Evel Knievel’s famed motorcycle jumps on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.”

It was part scientific wonder, part daredevil reality show, with the live-streamed event instantly capturing the world’s attention on a sleepy Sunday at the same time seven NFL football games were being played. It proved, once again, the power of the Internet in a world where news travels as fast as Twitter.

The event happened without a network broadcast in the United States, though organizers said more than 40 television stations in 50 countries — including cable’s Discovery Channel in the U.S. — carried the live feed. Instead, millions flocked online, drawing more than 8 million simultaneous views to a YouTube live stream at its peak, YouTube officials said.

More than 130 digital outlets carried the live feed, organizers said.

The jumper: Baumgartner, a 43-year-old Austrian, hit Mach 1.24, or 833.9 mph, according to preliminary data, and became the first person to reach supersonic speed without traveling in a jet or a spacecraft. The capsule he jumped from had reached an altitude of 128,100 feet above Earth, carried by a 55-story ultra-thin helium balloon.

Landing on his feet in the desert, the man known as “Fearless Felix” lifted his arms in victory to the cheers of jubilant friends and spectators who closely followed at a command center. Among them was his mother, Eva Baumgartner, who was overcome with emotion, crying.

“Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are,” an exuberant Baumgartner told reporters outside mission control after the jump.

The jump: About half of Baumgartner’s nine-minute descent was a free fall of 119,846 feet, according to Brian Utley, a jump observer from the FAI, an international group that works to determine and maintain the integrity of aviation records.

During the first part of Baumgartner’s free fall, anxious onlookers at the command center held their breath as he appeared to spin uncontrollably.

“When I was spinning first 10, 20 seconds, I never thought I was going to lose my life but I was disappointed because I’m going to lose my record. I put seven years of my life into this,” he said.

He added: “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. Of course, it was terrifying. I was fighting all the way down because I knew that there must be a moment where I can handle it.”

Baumgartner said traveling faster than sound is “hard to describe because you don’t feel it.” The pressurized suit prevented him from feeling the rushing air or even the loud noise he made when breaking the sound barrier.

With no reference points, “you don’t know how fast you travel,” he said.

Another hero: Coincidentally, Baumgartner’s accomplishment came on the 65th anniversary of the day that U.S. test pilot Chuck Yeager became the first man to officially break the sound barrier in a jet. Yeager, in fact, commemorated that feat on Sunday, flying in the back seat of an F-15 Eagle as it broke the sound barrier at more than 30,000 feet above California’s Mojave Desert.

Baumgartner’s dive was more than just a stunt. NASA is eager to improve its blueprints for future spacesuits.

His team included Joe Kittinger, who first tried to break the sound barrier from 19.5 miles up in 1960, reaching speeds of 614 mph. With Kittinger inside mission control, the two men could be heard going over technical details during the ascension.

“Our guardian angel will take care of you,” Kittinger radioed to Baumgartner around the 100,000-foot mark.

After Baumgartner landed, his sponsor, Red Bull, posted a picture to Facebook of him kneeling on the ground. It generated nearly 216,000 likes, 10,000 comments and more than 29,000 shares in less than 40 minutes.

And now, for the jump in Lego-vision: http://youtu.be/PIeE7by_r0s

Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria celebrates after successfully completing the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, N.M., Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Red Bull Stratos, Balazs Gardi)

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Reported by JUAN CARLOS LLORCA and OSKAR GARCIA of the Associated Press from ROSWELL, N.M.

Garcia reported from Honolulu. He can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia .

AP Science Writer Alicia Chang and Associated Press writer Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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