Imagine floating up through the air in a balloon, going higher and higher, past the clouds until the sky is empty and everything is absolutely silent. You look down at the ball-shaped Earth, and for a moment, it feels like you are flying, like you are no longer a mortal being… then, you jump! And you hurtle towards the Earth at the speed of sound.
That is exactly what retired Air Force Colonel Joe Kittinger did in 1960. He rode a helium balloon 102 800 ft (31.3 km) into the Stratosphere, and then took a freefall dive back to the Earth. This has been the highest, farthest and longest freefall in the history of mankind for more than 50 years – until now.
This weekend, in part of the Red Bull Stratos project, 43-year-old Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner took a leap from a height of 128 000 ft (39 km) above New Mexico, breaking the old record. It took him around 10 minutes to reach the surface, with his parachute deployed during the last few thousand feet. He also wanted to break the sound barrier, but this remains to be confirmed. Throughout his freefall, Joe Kittinger was speaking to him, giving commands and making sure he was alright. Here is the link to the video taken from the experiment on BBC’s website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19943194
BBC will also release a documentary about the event in November.
For this amazing feat, researchers have developed a new, high-tech parachute designed for extreme altitudes, as well as new ideas for emergency evacuations from spacecrafts. All the data collected from this experiment will be essentiel to the safety of future astronauts, so kudos to Felix Baumgartner for taking a leap at the edge of outer space!