An incredible eight million people signed into YouTube on 14 October 2012 to witness live the moment skydiver Felix Baumgartner did a freefall parachute jump from a height of 38,969.4m, smashing through eight world records and the sound barrier all in one go.
Born in Austria in 1969, Felix went on to complete his first skydive at the age of 16. Since then he has continued to challenge himself with extreme parachuting. Felix also started doing BASE jumping – a potentially dangerous sport which involves parachuting or wingsuit flying from a fixed structure or cliff.
He later spent some time in the Austrian military where he perfected his parachute jumping and learnt how to land on small target zones.
Before he became a renowned skydiving professional Felix supported himself by repairing motorbikes.
But, Felix said, “The air is where I am at home”.
In 1988, at the young age of 19, Felix began performing skydiving exhibitions for Red Bull and eventually started working with them on the five year, $20 million Red Bull Stratos Project in 2008 – the project in which Felix would jump from the stratosphere (the second major layer of the Earth’s atmosphere) and complete the Highest freefall parachute jump ever attempted.
Felix skydived from a balloon on the edge of space, breaking the record for the Largest balloon with a human on board and the Highest manned balloon flight. The balloon had around 5,097 m³ (180,000 ft³) of helium inserted into it by the crew prior to its launch. This was enough helium for lift off, but did not fill the balloon envelope to capacity because they needed to leave space to allow the helium to expand while the balloon rose. As the air pressure decreased with the balloon's rising altitude, the helium inside it expanded, eventually filling the entire envelope to its full capacity of approximately 850,000 m³ (30 million ft³) at jump altitude. The helium-filled balloon took Felix on his two hour journey into the stratosphere.
Throughout the project, Felix was aided by previous record-holder, 84 years-old Col Joseph Kittinger (USA) who had held the record for 52 years.
Felix’s skydive was also an enormous leap for online viewing, with Felix and Red Bull breaking the records for the Most concurrent views for a live event on YouTube and the Largest audience for a livestream ad – a whopping eight million people watched Felix’s journey to space and descent back to Earth. The audience would have been even larger but demand out-weighed server capabilities.
The danger of the event was emphasised by the “live” broadcast having a built-in delay, allowing the public to be spared a gruesome spectacle in the event of tragedy. After a tension-building ascent of over two hours, Felix could be heard running through the checklist with Col Kittinger and telling of the unexpected fogging of his visor.
Viewers watched him depressurize the capsule and clamber through the open door to sit on the step, on the edge of space, setting a record for the Highest altitude untethered outside a vehicle.
Felix spoke to Euronews about how he felt at this moment:
The view was captured by numerous cameras, allowing the world to see Baumgartner stepping off, falling away rapidly, developing an initially violent spin and recovering control – all blind, due to the fogging of his visor.
Felix fell to Earth at a supersonic speed of 1,357.6 km/h (843.6 mi/h), becoming the First human to break the sound barrier (1,235.98 km/h; 768 mi/h) in freefall and breaking the record for the Fastest speed in freefall.
After four minutes, he deployed his parachute (16 seconds short of a ninth world record, due to his lack of visibility) before landing safely in New Mexico, USA.
Following his amazing success, Felix was named to Vienna’s Street of Champions alongside other Austrian and International sports champions in Vienna, and he was nominated for a World Sports Award and for two categories in the NEA Extreme Sports Awards. Felix said he is “officially retired from the daredevil business”, and now puts his efforts into his helicopter and public service as a firefighter.
More than an impressive stunt, Felix’s skydive was a scientific challenge during which a lot of useful data was collected. His incredible achievement has led to significant advances in research into the stratosphere and space, as well as spacesuits and safety equipment. Each year our knowledge of these once unreachable places just keeps on growing and there is no saying where we may go next.