Freefall from the Edge of Space

Baumgarter's Supersonic Freefall Attempt

In 1960, United States Air Force Colonel Joseph Kittinger performed a free-fall jump from 31,333 m, setting records for the fastest freefall, the longest freefall, and the highest parachute jump.  These records remain intact 50 years later, despite numerous failed attempts. In 2010, Austrian extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner will undertake a mission to the edge of space in a stratospheric balloon flight to 36,576 m and attempt a freefall jump targeted to reach, for the first time in history, supersonic speeds.

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The Excelsior 3 Mission: On August 16, 1960, Joe Kittinger ascended to 31,333m in a stratospheric balloon. Despite one glove failing to inflate, causing grotesque swelling of his hand, Joe took a deep breath, prayed, and jumped. He was in freefall for 4 minutes, 36 seconds, reaching an official speed of 988 kph. At 5,500m he opened his parachute; the total time from jump to landing was 13 minutes, 45 seconds. The mission was a success.
 
Joe Kittinger set four world records on August 16, 1960:

Fastest freefall: 988 kph
Longest freefall: 4 minutes, 36 seconds
Highest parachute jump: 31,333 m
Highest manned balloon flight: 31,333 m

The first three records still stand after 50 years.

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As part of the Red Bull Stratos program, this year Felix Baumgartner plans to ascend to 36,576 m in a more technologically advanced stratospheric balloon and make a freefall jump, achieving groundbreaking supersonic speeds before he parachutes to the ground. His feat holds the potential to provide valuable medical and scientific research data for future pioneers.

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After completing a record-breaking crossing of the English Channel with a carbon wing in 2003, Baumgartner decided to explore becoming the first parachutist to break the sound barrier. Felix and aerospace expert Art Thompson shared this vision and the Red Bull Stratos program was born.

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Record Targets-

Speed of sound in freefall:
In challenging the current speed record, Felix will attempt to become the first human to break the speed of sound in freefall, attaining Mach 1.0 (about 1110 kph). In comparison, a skydiver falling in the standard, belly-down position reaches a top speed of about 193kph.

(Current record, established Aug. 16, 1960, and held by Col. Joseph Kittinger: 988 kph [equivalent to Mach 0.9])

Freefall altitude:
Felix plans to exit the capsule at a minimum altitude of 36,576m above Earth’s surface. To put it in perspective, that’s about four times higher than a commercial airliner’s cruising altitude.

(Current record, established Aug. 16, 1960, and held by Col. Joseph Kittinger: 31,333m)

Highest manned balloon flight altitude:
 
If he reaches the target altitude of 36,576 m, Felix will push the limits of manned balloon flight.

(Current record, established on May 4, 1961, and held by Lt. Cdr. Victor A. Prather, Jr., and Cdr. Malcolm Ross: 34,666m)

Longest freefall duration:
From the target altitude of 36,576 m, Felix will likely freefall for approximately 5 minutes and 35 seconds before his main parachute deploys.

(Current record, established Aug. 16, 1960, and held by Col. Joseph Kittinger: 4 minutes, 36 seconds)

 

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