On 25 July 2012, Felix Baumgartner completed the final milestone remaining before he attempts to achieve his dream of becoming the first person to break the speed of sound in freefall. According to preliminary data, his test jump from a 150 079 cubic-metre balloon achieved an altitude of over 29 455 metres, seeing Baumgartner execute a 3 minute, 48 second freefall jump reaching speeds of 862 km/h.
Baumgartner landed in a desert area of the US state of New Mexico, just about 15 minutes by helicopter from his launch site at Roswell International Air Centre. As the ecstatic team gathered in Mission Control to welcome his return, technical project director Art Thompson commented: “It’s hard not to get emotional about today. We are just so glad to have Felix back on the ground after a long week with significant weather challenges. The crew did a great job.”
The test launch was twice delayed due to thunderstorms, wind and rain. But the team of aerospace experts was never discouraged, well aware that even Space Shuttle launches sometimes faced several days of postponement. Baumgartner’s successful test is proof that patience pays off.
The balloon for Baumgartner’s final ascent will rise as tall as a skyscraper – requiring surface winds of no more than 6,5 km/h to avoid endangering its delicate plastic envelope. The date for the record jump is now subject to favourable weather conditions and critical post-jump assessments of the capsule and equipment.
Today’s successful test, with a balloon over four times as large as the one that carried the pilot at the first test flight in March, delivered new insights for the progress of the project and also new research data for the benefit of aerospace research.
“It was a rough couple of days and an exhausting endeavor. I am now really excited. It has always been a dream of mine. Only one more step to go,” Baumgartner said after the successful landing.
Pending official data review and confirmation, the leap from over 29 455 metres takes Baumgartner past Russia’s Yevgeny Andreyev (25 458 metres) to make him only the second man to have successfully completed a jump from such an altitude. His planned freefall from 36 576 metres would finally break the record of 31 333 metres set 52 years ago by the only man who has jumped from a higher altitude, Baumgartner’s mentor Joe Kittinger.