With the dust beginning to settle on Felix Baumgartner's landing spot it's perhaps time to take stock of the record-breaking Red Bull Stratos mission…
Felix's lucky numbers
Sunday's jump was about much more than just breaking Joe Kittinger's 52-year-old freefall record and yet it's still impressive to look at the four records Felix smashed to smithereens above New Mexico.
When all is verified and confirmed, the Austrian is set to hold the following records: the first person to break the speed of sound in freefall; the freefall from the highest altitude; the longest vertical distance travelled in freefall; and the highest manned balloon flight.
Which all sounds very impressive, of course, but not as eye-poppingly amazing as the actual numbers from Felix's jump, collected here in all their glory…
- Felix jumped from 39,045m or 128,100ft.
- The fastest speed Felix achieved in freefall was 1,342.8km/h or 833.9mph.
- Felix fell for 34 seconds before going supersonic.
- The vertical distance of Felix's freefall was 36,529m or 119,846ft.
- Felix was in freefall for four minutes and 22 seconds.
- Felix released his parachute 5,300ft above ground.
- The whole thing, from jumping to landing, took nine minutes and nine seconds.
- Felix landed 70.5km or 43.8miles away from the launch site.
In their own words
After the jump, Felix Baumgartner's initial reactions ranged from the philosophical – "sometimes you have to go really high to see how small you are," and "when you are standing on top of the world, you don’t think of records anymore, all you think is that you want to come back alive" – to some ridiculously sensible and emotion-free statements.
"At a certain time, it looked like a mission abort, because in our list of contingencies if you can’t see anything then you can’t leave the capsule. And frost was slowly building on my visor. In that kind of situation, when you get to 127,000ft, you’re already totally exhausted. You have to perform at 100 per cent, and it is tough. I never anticipated it was going to be so tough."
Felix went on to describe skydiving in a pressure suit. "In normal skydiving you can feel the air to manoeuvre yourself, but in the suit, with pressure at 3.5 pounds per sq inch, it’s like swimming without touching water… It’s hard to describe going supersonic because I didn’t feel it. When you’re in that suit you don’t feel anything – it's like being in a cast."
He also hopes that the legacy of Red Bull Stratos is inspiring future generations to achieve their goals: "I want to inspire the next generation. As I sit here next to Joe Kittinger in this press conference, I’m hoping that in 40 years there will be someone asking my advice because they want to break my records."
Medical Director Dr Jonathan Clark, meanwhile, is keen to get to work on all the data collected. "We have a great scientific team, and we’re working to compile all of the scientific data. Felix had a monitoring system which will help to break incredible new ground".
He went on to talk about the visor problem ("this was not an easy task. Just like Joe Kittinger’s jump when he had a glove problem and pressed on, Felix took a calculated risk, and he pressed on") and that terrifying spin Felix went into: "We had anticipated flat spin as a problem – Felix was aware and wasn’t overcome by the surprise. He was like a champion and just went right through it."
Also full of praise for the way Felix dealt with the spin was Technical Project Director Art Thompson: "As a tumble ramps up in speed, it gets more difficult to stop. We’re glad Felix was able to get it under control. You could see a beautiful step-off, and then he went into a tumble. We have the accelerometer information – all that data will be analyzed. You can see that his flight path was controlled, he got into the delta position, and so on, and that tells us about high-altitude egress, transitioning through Mach and back. Felix provided that today, and he did an outstanding job as a test pilot."
Felix's mentor, and the man who ran through the pre-jump checklist, Col Joe Kittinger, was probably one of the most concerned men in Mission Control, especially when Felix's visor stopped working. But never doubted Felix. "This [issue with visor heat power] was a challenge. We had a team and we worked together with Felix to come up with a solution. Felix was perfect. He took the options that were available and made the right decisions.
Capsule Crew Chief Jon Wells, the man who led the clean-up operation, said his team heard Felix break through the speed of sound: “We heard a sound like a sonic boom. A lot of us are from aerospace backgrounds and we looked at each other, practically in disbelief. We know that sound."
He also compared Felix's jump with Joe Kittinger's in 1960. “Joe Kittinger’s gondola in 1960 was like a Model T – practical and very durable. With very sophisticated, sensitive equipment and all the ‘luxuries’ of cutting-edge technology, our Red Bull Stratos capsule was more like a modern supercar. From every standpoint, including a technical one, it really did its job.”
The clean-up operation
So what became of the 30 million cubic ft balloon that took Felix to space? Has it joined the great landfill in the sky? Amazingly, the Red Bull Stratos plan included a way to bring both the balloon and capsule back to Earth.
Once Felix was safely out of the way Mission Control released the capsule from the balloon, tearing a hole in the latter to release its non-toxic helium and allow the empty envelope to fall to earth.
The capsule then deployed its own paratchute. A "reefing" (or restraining) fabric around the parachute held it at 17ft in diametre for the first fast section of the descent, allowing it to plunge 2,000ft per minute. This fabric was released at 20,000ft so the chute could expand to its full capacity of 100ft in diametre and descend more slowly (about six metres per second).
The capsule took around 25 minutes to descend and landed gently 88km east of the launch site. The empty parachute's journey back to earth took 15 minutes and it landed 11km west of the capsule. Both were met by a crew of twelve personnel who, thanks to meteorologist Don Day's predictions, were within 300 yards of the capsule's landing position.
After shutting off the liquid oxygen and nitrogen systems, taking pictures of Baumgartner’s instrumentation and turning off its 15 cameras, the crew from Sage Cheshire Aerospace, who built the capsule, shut down the capsule's overall power. Then it was off to pick up the 40 acres of balloon material.
The crew returned to the Roswell launch site at 5pm. The capsule and balloon envelope are being returned to the Red Bull Stratos's technical hub at Sage Cheshire Aerospace in Lancaster, California. Everything will be analysed and analysed again over the next few months before the vessel is given a well earned rest.