On 14 October 2012 the world watched in awe as Felix Baumgartner ascended in a helium-balloon-towed capsule to 128,100 feet above Roswell, New Mexico - and then leapt out and broke the sound barrier on his way back to Earth, hitting a staggering 833.9mph.
It was the highest-ever skydive and the fastest a human had ever travelled unaided.
This record-breaking feat required years of planning, millions of dollars of research and engineering - and nerves of steel.
Here we present, courtesy of Red Bull Stratos, exclusive extracts from the 43-year-old's diary in which he details the mental anguish of the first failed attempt, the moment the mission was nearly aborted mid-flight and the exhilaration of gazing down on the Earth from 24 miles up.
It's a long way down: Felix steps out from the capsule 24 miles up
17:00 Wednesday 10 October
Felix: “Obviously I worked hard on getting myself in top physical form for the red bull stratos project. Basic endurance, strength, power endurance, the whole gambit. I knew that I had to perform well not only during those few minutes of free fall, but also during the long, hard days leading up to it.”
10:00 Saturday 13 October
Felix: “My whole family was there. My girlfriend Nici, my mother, father, brother, and my closest friends. For some, this was their first time in the US, and I think it was unforgettable for all of them. I wanted to have the most important people in my life around me for the most important project of my career.”
02:40 Sunday 14 October
Felix: “Not easy to sleep the night before. I got up just after two in the morning, drank a strawberry smoothie and drove out to the airfield. After winds foiled our attempt last Tuesday, we’re hoping for better conditions this time. Don Day, Joe Kittinger, Art Thompson and Andy Walsh will run through everything again with me today before it gets real serious. At 03:10 I’ll climb into the capsule again, alone and in civvies, to quietly go through the most critical procedures once more.”
Felix: “I put on my pressure suit for the final time, then I prebreathe pure oxygen to purge nitrogen out of my blood. While I’m doing this, the balloon is spread out on the airfield and connected to the pressure capsule via the flight train. At exactly 07:04 Andy Walsh opens the door of the trailer. The sun has bathed the horizon to the east of Roswell in a crimson glow. No sign of wind. Today is a glorious day.”
Felix: “A forklift lifts mike todd and me up to the capsule. Mike Todd straps me into the seat. There is a meticulous protocol for everything and we must follow it exactly. Everything is OK. Now we just have to wait for the meteorologist, Don Day, to give the go-ahead to inflate the balloon. Inflation could take up to one and a half hours. So that I don’t start to sweat, cool air is blown through a hose into the capsule. But I find I get too cold, so I instruct my team to remove the hose."
Felix: “At precisely 08:44 the command is given to fill the balloon. Helium now flows into the gigantic envelope that will transport me into the stratosphere. We were here at this very point five days ago. On October 9, the wind gusted at the height of the sensitive top of the balloon, which forced us to abandon the launch. The wind had started to twist the balloon envelope, making a safe start impossible; the balloon was lost. I couldn’t believe it. I had to really pull myself together and use every bit of professionalism I had to deal with the shock. This one here is our last balloon. But all is going well today."
Felix ascending by helium balloon up to the stratosphere
Felix: “Take off! This is the moment we have worked towards all these years. You can’t see what’s happening from inside the capsule. You just hope your team is doing everything right.”
Felix: “The first minutes of flight are the most critical. At low altitude I wouldn’t have the chance to exit the capsule with a parachute in case something went wrong. Looking at the images, I really notice just how thin and small the balloon looks near the Earth, while in the stratosphere it looks round and full because of the low ambient pressure. You could use this in teaching physics as an example to explain how atmospheric pressure works.”
Felix: “We have a problem. a major problem. It seems the heating in the face plate of my visor is not working. My breath is condensing inside. If you’ve ever experienced fogged-up ski goggles on a black run, you might get an idea what that would mean for a supersonic free fall from the stratosphere – in a pressure suit, to boot. We’re on the brink of cancelling the mission. Joe Kittinger decides to cut the audio feed from live so that we can discuss the situation openly and directly.”
Felix: “I decided to jump, despite a potential problem with the visor heating. The decision proved to be the right one. I wanted to go through with this. And the alternative descending in the capsule – was not very enticing."
Felix: “It’s hard to put into words what you feel at that moment. Obviously, you’ve visualised this moment a thousand times, but nothing can prepare you for the sheer magnitude of it, when the sky above you is pitch black, you can see the curve of the Earth, and you think to yourself: 'I have arrived.’
"You have finally reached the point which you have been working towards for so long. It is a moment you’ll never have again. Never before had a man been up so high, protected only by a pressure suit. Come Up and Get Me is the cheeky title of Joe Kittinger’s biography. It is a privilege to be allowed up here.
“I have the greatest humbleness for the universe and an awareness of our insignificance. 'I’m coming home,' I say before I jump and this profoundly matches what I’m feeling right at this moment. I’m at the furthest point of my journey. From now on I’m homeward bound – metaphorically and literally.
“The jump is flawless. For the first 34 seconds my fall is perfect. Then the big tumble dryer in the sky turns on.”
Felix: “Itry to hold my position. I don’t feel anything, no indications, no noise. There is only nothingness. I don’t even feel how fast I’m falling, there are simply no reference points. I may have already broken the sound barrier, but, of course, I can’t hear. I’m travelling faster than sound. Part of the rescue crew waiting close to my calculated landing spot, former CIA men and firefighters, tell me later that they heard two bangs. The first when I entered supersonic range; the second when I slowed down to sub-sonic again in the denser air masses.”
Felix: “Now it really gets going. massively! I rotate uncontrollably over all three body axes. It’s the infamous flat spin that I’d been warned about. I have to get this under control quickly before I black out from too much blood being pressed into my head.
"Stretching your arms out only makes the situation worse. I pin my arms to my sides, get my head low and manage to assume a controlled position again. I’d practised this with Luke Aikins. After 40 seconds of uncontrolled spinning I take a safe free fall position and deploy my parachute – as planned – at an altitude of 1,585m (5,200 feet) above ground level.”
An ecstatic Baumgartner safely back on Earth
Felix: The landing is perfect. The crew gives me a signal via radio of the wind direction so that I can steer my parachute accordingly. At just 3.4G, the landing is the softest I’ve done in the pressure suit.
Felix: “It’s done. I landed safely and I survived. The Red Bull Stratos project was a success. I can’t help but fall to my knees and raise my hands to the sky. I know that Joe Kittinger and the team prayed for me earlier and asked the guardian angels to watch out for me.
"But I was up in their realm anyway. Mike Todd and the rescue crew were the first to race up to me. During the last few months, Mike was like a mother to me: he was the one who dressed me, he was the last to leave me in the capsule and the first to welcome me back onto solid ground.
Baumgartner (left) with Joe Kittinger, the previous record holder for the highest-ever freefall. The latter jumped from 19 miles up in 1960
“We fall into each other’s arms. A helicopter brings us back to Mission Control. There is Art Thompson, there is Joe Kittinger, there is my team. I’m overwhelmed. I have returned to Earth.”
Felix: “My team. Red Bull Stratos was teamwork. Even though I’m now standing in the limelight, it was all of us who turned an idea into a project and a project into a success. Even if there were recurring problems during the five years of working towards this goal, we overcame them. Joe Kittinger said at the debrief meeting that the Red Bull Stratos crew were the best he has ever worked with. I couldn’t put it better myself.”
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