Felix Baumgartner Completes Freefall From 18 Miles
July 25, 2012

Felix Baumgartner Completes Freefall From 18 Miles

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

After two rescheduled attempts to jump from near the edge of space, Felix Baumgartner finally lifted off this morning, rising to more than 96,000 feet in a pressurized capsule, carried by a 55-story tall balloon, and then stepped out into the clear blue heavens and dropped like rock.

During the final test jump before he and the Red Bull Stratos team attempts to make a record-breaking freefall in August from 120,000 feet, Baumgartner stepped out of his capsule and fell at speeds in excess of 500 miles per hour in the first 25 seconds.

Austrian-born Baumgartner, 43, was in freefall for nearly five minutes, before the parachute opened, at which point it took another 10 minutes to reach Earth.

It marks the second test jump for “Fearless Felix” (as he is known) from such extreme heights. It also marks his personal best, and prepares him for his next feat, which will be to jump from more than 23 miles in August. If he completes that jump, it will be a new record for freefalls, beating the previous record-holder US Air Force Captain Joe Kittinger´s 102,800-foot free fall in 1960.

He is hoping that jump will not only break a freefall record, but make him the only person to break the speed of sound without the aid of an aircraft.

“It has always been a dream of mine,” Baumgartner told Marcia Dunn of the  Associated Press in a statement following his safe landing on Wednesday. “Only one more step to go.”

The ascent took about 90 minutes, yet the fall back to Earth was over in less than 20 minutes.

“It felt completely different at 90,000 feet,” Baumgartner noted. “There is no control when you exit the capsule. There is no way to get stable.”

The test was observed closely by NASA, which wants to learn all it can about escape systems for its future rocket ships. Baumgartner´s jump doesn´t even get him close to the edge of space -- not even the August jump from 120,000 feet will be close -- as space doesn´t officially begin until 62 miles (328,000 feet). But the technology behind his suit and capsule may help NASA build on that.

Baumgartner, a former military parachutist and extreme athlete, has made more than 2,500 jumps from aircraft, as well as from skyscrapers and landmarks.

The Red Bull Stratos project has been 7 years in the making, with Baumgartner actively training for the jumps for the last 5 years.