“Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you really are. “ - Felix Baumgartner
It was a typical autumn day on October 14, 2012 in New Mexico. Approximately 24 miles above the surface of the earth, Felix Baumgartner prepared to break the world record for highest freefall, set in 1960 by Joe Kittinger. As I watched the broadcast leading up to the jump, I hoped everything went according to plan, as the last two attempts had been aborted due to weather conditions. Then, at around 10:30 EST, Felix Baumgartner became one of my heros.
Felix’s Early Life
April 20th, 1969, in Salzburg Austria, Felix Baumgartner came into the world. I like to imagine his parents wrote “Felix (Badass) Baumgartner” on his birth certificate. They should have, anyways. By the age of 16, Felix had already began skydiving, which is a lot cooler than anything most 16 year olds do. He spent time perfecting his abilities in the Austrian military’s Demonstration and Competition skydiving team. By 1988, he became part of the Red Bull beverage company’s skydiving exhibition team. I’m still trying to figure out why he needs a parachute, when Red Bull could just give him wings.
Turns out, Red Bull DID give him wings. On July 30th, 2003 He used those carbon fiber wings to soar 22 miles across the English channel.
During this time with Red Bull, Felix, bored with jumping out of regular airplanes, began BASE jumping (Buildings, Antennas, Spans, Earthen Objects). He holds multiple world records for BASE jumps, the lowest which was achieved by jumping from the “Christ the Redeemer” statue in Rio de Janeiro - a height of 95 ft, and the highest parachute jump from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, nearly 1,483 ft high.
Fast forward to the fateful day of October 14th, 2012 and Felix is once again setting a new world record. Red Bull mission control, including former freefall record holder Joe Kittinger, decided weather conditions were good and the jump could proceed. Felix, fitted in his pressurized suit rigged with all sorts of life support, cameras and extra structural support for his massive cojones, entered the launch capsule.
They launched the capsule and helium balloon from the Roswell International Air Center. The ascent to 24 miles lasted approximately 2.5 hours. During that time, Baumgartner’s visor began to malfunction, and started frosting up. Mission control made the decision to continue with the mission.
Once leveling off at the 24 mile mark, they performed their final checks and egress procedures. Once all vital systems were verified functional on Felix’s suit, pressure between the capsule and the outside atmosphere was equalized, and the door to the capsule opened. Kittinger radioed to Felix - “Start the cameras, and our guardian angel will take care of you.”
Once the capsule door was opened, Felix radioed back - “I know the whole world is watching now. I wish you could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to be really high to understand how small you are… I’m coming home now.”
And with that final broadcast, Felix saluted, and jumped.
Posted below is the video with live telemetry data. You can see him “tumbling”, or spinning, out of control. Keep an eye on the ‘G-Force’ meter on the right, it’s going nuts! Had he not been such a complete badass, this could caused him to pass out, which would have almost certainly resulted in his death. However, Felix was able to regain control and stabilize his descent.
Posted below are some of the mind blowing facts of the world record setting jump from Red Bull’s website
Felix jumped from 39,045m or 128,100ft.
The fastest speed Felix achieved in freefall was 1,342.8km/h or 833.9mph.
Felix fell for 34 seconds before going supersonic.
The vertical distance of Felix's freefall was 36,529m or 119,846ft.
Felix was in freefall for four minutes and 22 seconds.
Felix released his parachute 5,300ft above ground.
The whole thing, from jumping to landing, took nine minutes and nine seconds.
Felix landed 70.5km or 43.8miles away from the launch site.
Why is any of this important? The technological benefits may not have important implications in our everyday life, but this type of boundary pushing is exactly why we’re able to do all of the amazing things we as a species have accomplished. Humans can now go almost anywhere, from the depths of the ocean, to the vacuum of space. Just as the first man in space inspired future generations of astronauts, Joe Kittinger’s record jump in 1960 inspired Felix Baumgartner to push the envelope further. This example of human will and determination will be motivation for generations to come, to continue pushing the boundaries of our technology and determination to further achieve ever greater feats.
People need to see what is possible, and that things that are considered impossible don’t have to stay that way. We will never achieve anything without first trying. Watching that video of Felix jumping is just one inspiration I’ve had to push my personal boundaries. It’s one of the reasons I’m writing for this website. I may never break any world records, but the chances of me doing anything amazing are zero if I never try. Felix makes me want to try. Felix, you’re my hero.