Red Bull Stratos Jump Breaks Longstanding Records

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When skydiver Felix Baumgartner stepped from his space capsule on Sunday from 128,000 feet, he broke two records that stood for more than 50 years and he also kept a promise to himself. "The only thing you want is you want to come back alive because you don't want to die in front of your parents, your girlfriend," he told reporters a few hours after he parachuted to a seemingly effortless stand-up landing in New Mexico Sunday. His was the highest-ever parachute jump and the highest manned balloon flight. Baumgartner is reported to have reached Mach 1.24 during freefall, which made it the fastest freefall. At four minutes and 18 seconds it was not the longest-duration freefall. That record still belongs to Col. Joe Kittinger, who waited until 4:30 to pull the chute on his 1960 jump. Baumgartner's successful jump took place exactly 65 years, to the day, after Chuck Yeager first broke the speed of sound in the rocket-powered X1. Like Yeager's flight, Baumgartner's jump had its potentially dangerous moments.

Baumgartner's jump was preceded by some concerns over the heating element in the faceplate of his space helmet. The only alternative, to descend in the capsule, would have meant a possible rough landing with no control over the landing site at a high descent rate. After extended discussion, the launch team decided to proceed with the jump. Baumgartner reached extreme speeds as he plummeted to Earth. At one point, he began spinning and considered triggering an emergency sequence that would have ended the chance of records but allowed him to safely descend the rest of the way. "Do I push that button and stay alive or fight the whole way down and break the speed of sound?" he asked rhetorically in the news conference. He was able to recover from the spin but reported that his visor had been fogging up. He deployed his chute a short time later. It was a long ride down to a perfect stand-up landing.