Man discovers he can fly, but only towards the ground
By Elise Hungerford

Last summer we all watched as Usain Bolt ran a jaw-dropping 27.3 mph to break the world record in the 100 meter dash. We called him the fastest man in the world. But on Sunday, Oct. 14,  former paratrooper and Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner took that title away by flying toward the ground at over 834 mph – the fastest a man has ever gone without mechanical propulsion.

Baumgartner, 43, achieved this impressive feat while attempting (and succeeding) to break several world records in the Red Bull Stratos stunt. He claimed three: highest altitude ever achieved by any human in a balloon (over 127,000 feet), free falling from the highest altitude, and becoming the first person to ever break the speed of sound in free fall. The speed of sound has been broken by a human body before, but never intentionally. The only others to have done so are fighter pilots during emergency ejections from their planes.

The height Baumgartner reached was more than 23 miles up, three or four times higher than any airplane in its right mind would go and officially in space. In fact, by NASA standards, Baumgartner, as he made his journey to the stratosphere, is now an astronaut, as the United States defines an astronaut as “anyone who has travelled to an altitude of 80 kilometres or more.” It was necessary for the jump to be made from this height so that atmospheric drag wouldn’t slow Baumgartner down as he tried to break the speed of sound.

At the vertex, after completing a checklist, he climbed out of the tiny capsule he’d ridden up in, looked at the earth, and prepared to jump. For the last hour he’d been in constant communication with a man called Joe Kittinger, a retired Air Force Col., who was his “capcom”, his primary communication with mission control.

Felix Baumgartner making his historic jump
Red Bull Stratos Content Pool

Kittinger, 83, held this position of honor as most of the records Baumgartner was trying to break had been set over 40 years ago by Kittinger himself. When Kittinger gave the all clear, Baumgartner said “I wish you could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to be up really high to see how small you are. I’m going home now.”

And then, he let go.

Nine minutes later, Baumgartner had passed Mach 1.24 and shattered all of Kittinger’s records but one, the longest freefall pulling up just short of Kittinger’s 4 minutes and 36 seconds. Baumgartner opened his parachute at 5000 feet and touched down in Roswell, New Mexico, landing on his feet.

“Couldn’t have done it any better myself,” Kittinger said.

“It was harder than I expected,” Baumgarter said after landing and returning to mission control, according to The New York Times. “Trust me, when you stand up there on top of the world, you become so humble. It’s not about breaking records anymore. It’s not about getting scientific data. It’s all about coming home.”

An observer said after the event, “‘Red Bull gives you a balloon and a parachute’ just doesn’t sound as catchy as ‘Red Bull gives you wings.’”

Watch Baumgartner’s jump here