50-Year-Old Parachute Altitude Record Challenged
January 28, 2010 —After nearly 50 years, the days may be numbered for United States Air Force Colonel (Ret.) Joseph Kittinger’s record 102,800-ft parachute jump from a balloon. Extreme sportsman Felix Baumgartner, of Austria, announced late last week he will try to break Kittinger’s all-time record jump by skydiving from a balloon from an altitude of at least 120,000 ft. What’s more, it’s likely that during his five-minute freefall Baumgartner will become the first person to exceed the speed of sound with his own body.
Baumgartner aims to ascend in a pressurized capsule lifted by a helium balloon to the upper reaches of the stratosphere to at least 120,000 feet and, protected by a full-pressure “space suit,” launch a freefall jump that could exceed Mach 1.0 - more than 690 miles per hour - before parachuting to Earth.
If successful, the Red Bull Stratos mission hopes to establish four world records; the data captured could promise new standards in aerospace safety and enhanced possibilities for human flight.
Kittinger, who in August 1960 made his record-setting jump that opened the door for space exploration, introduced the Austrian pilot to media from around the world during a briefing in New York City.
“People have been trying to break my records for 50 years, and many have died in the attempt,” Kittinger said. “But I believe that with our unique assets, an extraordinary mission team, the dedication of Red Bull, and Felix Baumgartner’s outstanding skills, Red Bull Stratos will succeed.”
Baumgartner is a BASE jumper—one who parachutes to the ground from fixed structures. He is perhaps best known for being the first person to fly across the English Channel with a carbon wing in 2003.
“This is truly a step into the unknown. No one can accurately predict how the human body will react in the transition to supersonic speeds,” Baumgartner said. “But we’ve got to find out. Future aerospace programs need a way for pilots and astronauts to bail out at high altitude in case of emergency.”
The record attempt will likely be held later this year over North America.