'Austronaut' Felix Baumgartner jumped out of his space capsule from an altitude of 21,800 metres (71.500 ft) as the Red Bull Stratos project took a giant leap into the manned flight stage in New Mexico.
At 9:50am yesterday, a spacesuit-clad Felix Baumgartner parachuted into the New Mexico desert nearly 40km (25 miles) from Roswell as he successfully completed his first journey towards the edge of space. Just one hour and 40 minutes earlier, the Austrian extreme athlete had lifted off from Roswell on board a space capsule attached to a 50m (156ft) high helium balloon that brought him to an altitude of nearly 22,000m (72,180ft) .
The goal of thi eexpedition towards the edge of space was to carry out the first tests under real conditions and to fly over the so-called “Armstrong Line”. This is the area in aerospace where earthly boundaries and laws of gravity gradually disappear – it is an inhospitable region for humans where liquids begin to vaporise and temperatures plunge to 60° below Celsius (minus 75 F). Humans could not survive in this zone without a spacesuit to protect them from the forces of depressurisation and lack of oxygen.
Felix Baumgartner, en route to a delicate meeting with his own fears in the skies over New Mexico.
To get there, Baumgartner first had to make it through another “death zone” closer to earth. During the first 300m (1,000ft) of his ascent there would be no chance of escape in the event of a crash because there would be no time to get out of the capsule or open the parachute.
The ascent and his exit from the capsule went exactly as planned. Felix plunged back towards earth at a speed of nearly 600 km/h (373mph). He said the biggest challenge was the extreme cold.
"I could hardly move my hands. We're going to have to do some work on that aspect," he said. The Austrian added that he also needs to work on getting accustomed to the extraordinary dimensions of space. "I wanted to open the parachute after descending for a while but I noticed that I was still at an altitude of 15,000m (50,000ft)," the Red Bull athlete said.
Taking care of business: The Red Bull Stratos ground control having many eyes on Felix.
Ready to take a leap. Felix Baumgartner on the edge of his seat slightly below the edge of space.
Even though it was only a test jump for his forthcoming leap from an altitude of nearly 37km (23 miles), Baumgartner still managed to make it into the record books. He became only the third person to leap from that altitude and survive. The only people to jump from greater heights were Russia’s Eugene Andreev and American Joe Kittinger, both of whom accomplished their feats in the 1960s. Kittinger, a living legend now 83 years old, is a mentor for the Red Bull Stratos project and was heading Baumgartner’s test flight from Mission Control in Roswell. Kittinger is on the team of nearly 100 top experts recruited from the fields of science,
The test demonstrated that not only did the capsule system function exactly as planned but the giant stratospheric balloon did as well, as balloon expert Ed Coca confirmed. The delicate giant, which was inflated overnight before the start with 14,000 cubic meters of helium, was remotely deflated exactly as planned at an altitude of just under 30 kilometers. The space capsule that Baumgartner had been riding in was detached with an explosive device from the balloon descended under a parachute and later landed undamaged in the desert.
The landing capsule after its first excursion into higher realms.
Support engineer Mike Todd welcomes a still giddy Felix B. back on the planet.
"This test serves as the perfect motivation for the team for the next step," said Baumgartner, flashing a wide smile after two previous attempts to launch the test earlier this week had to be scrubbed. The conditions in the New Mexico desert will be too windy in the weeks ahead, making it impossible to launch this kind of balloon. After the seasonally windy conditions pass, there will be another test from the altitude of 27,000 meters before Baumgartner and the team will attempt to break the record later this year.
Photos © Joerg Mitter, Predrag Vuckovic, Christian Pondella, Stefan Stau, Jay Nemeth / Red Bull Content Pool / Red Bull Stratos Newsroom