Neil Armstrong may have said the legendary words when man first landed on the moon, but there’s absolutely no doubt that the most giant of all leaps came in 2012 when Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner plunged to the Earth from a height of 1,28,097 feet! If you paid attention to your geography teacher in school, you’d have figured out by now that the height is also the very edge of Space – the end of the Stratosphere and the beginning of the vast black expanse that everyone is so fascinated by and that’s no coincidence.
The team at Red Bull Stratos had been at it for a long time and finally on October 14 2012, a little while after Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber gave Red Bull Racing their first Fomula 1 one-two finish of the season at the Korean Grand Prix, the time was right. Baumgartner’s first attempt had already been fouled by bad weather and as the clock ticked to Sunday, the team was keeping a close eye on wind speed – after all, a tiny gust could put the Austrian’s trajectory way off course!
A special space suit was designed for the attempt and it’s only fitting that one of the men on the team that acted as consultants to the project was none other than Colonel Joe Kittinger. The name may not be as familiar to everyone as Vettel’s but Kittinger who was ranked Captain then, held the previous record for the highest free-fall at 1,02,800 feet back in 1960! The suit itself is a work of extreme engineering being both pressurised but allowing Baumgartner the flexibility in his limbs to control his fall.
The jump lasted all of 9:03 minutes out of which 4:19 minutes were spent in free-fall before the parachute was deployed. While the facts and figures were still being validated at the time of going into print, the Red Bull Stratos mission is expected to set new records for the highest free-fall and highest manned balloon flight as well, leaving the one for longest free-fall still in Kittinger’s name.
But what is even more fascinating is that 43-year old Baumgartner broke the sound-barrier on his trip down to Earth, reaching a top speed of 1,137km/h exactly 65 years since it was first broken by Chuck Yeager in an experimental rocket-powered airplane!