On Sunday, October 14, 2012 with millions of people around the world watching, Austrian Felix Baumgartner became the first man to break the sound barrier outside the confines of an airplane.
In the days leading up to this historic jump, I asked myself why anyone would want to do this. The risks seemed to far outweigh the potential achievement of what seemed to amount to a publicity stunt.
From The Telegraph, UK:
The former military parachutist rose in a purpose-built capsule beneath a giant helium balloon to a height of more than 128,000ft – almost four times the height of a cruising passenger airliner.
After a salute to the millions watching around the world, Baumgartner jumped from the capsule and plummeted toward earth, reaching a speed of 833mph – or Mach 1.24 – faster than the speed of sound, according to his spokesman.
His remarkable feat came exactly 65 years to the day after Chuck Yeager became the first man to break the sound barrier in an aeroplane, and it was one of three world records Baumgartner set with his jump. He also smashed the records for the highest manned balloon flight and the highest skydive.
Minutes before his historic leap, which was broadcast on television around the world, the 43 year-old sat anxiously on the edge of his capsule, looking down at Earth.
As he was instructed to cut his oxygen supply and release his safety harness, mission control in Roswell, New Mexico, told Baumgartner that a “guardian angel was with him”.
He addressed the world with a short speech ahead of his leap. He later clarified that he said: “I know the whole world is watching right now and I wish the world could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you really are.”
He then added: “I’m going over” before jumping.
Infrared cameras captured him as he initially tumbled in the air before settling into a steady head-first descent.
Baumgartner’s family and friends, including his parents, Ava and Felix, and girlfriend, Nicole Oetl, who had travelled to New Mexico watch, cheered and celebrated as it became clear he was safe.
As he fell to Earth, Baumgartner complained that his visor was steaming up before he pulled his parachute cord. After two or three minutes he appeared against the cloudless blue sky before steering himself to safety, landing on a patch of New Mexico scrubland, just nine minutes after jumping.
Despite his incredible accomplishment, Baumgartner looked almost nonchalant as he hit the ground running before settling into a slow stroll. Only once his parachute had fallen behind him did he drop to his knees and punch the air in celebration.
After reaching such heights, Baumgartner’s next ambition is to take to the sky once again. Although this time his ceiling will be much lower. He hopes to move to the country with his girlfriend, dividing his time between the US and Austria, where he plans to fly helicopters, performing mountain rescues and firefighting.
I did not watch the entire jump live, but I did tune in for the final moments of his descent. While I would never attempt such a thing myself, I’m glad there are men and women willing to push the boundaries of what we are capable of. If for no other reason than to strive to do more, to be more, and to inspire future generations to follow in their footsteps.
Yes, the world is a mess and Baumgartner’s achievement did nothing to make it any less messier. But sometimes it’s just good to have something or someone to cheer for.
In a press conference after the jump, an emotional Baumgartner said, “When I was standing there on top of the world so humble, you are not thinking about breaking records. I was thinking about coming back alive. You do not want to die in front of your parents and all these people….I thought ‘please God, don’t let me down.”
Felix Baumgartner sat on the edge of space looking down upon the world not considering how big his accomplishment would be, but how very small he was, and he reminded me that being small is not such a bad thing, when a God so big holds us in the palm of His hand.
Indeed. God did not let him down.