Humans Do Cool Things: Felix Baumgartner Freefalls From Space

I’m just going to come out and say it: HOLY SH*T. On Sunday, Austrian skydiver and BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner jumped to earth from 120,000 feet. That’s space, guys. A man fell willingly from space to the ground and not only did he live to tell about it, he literally landed on his feet and broke several world records in the process. Aren’t human beings amazing? I mean, look at this:

Baumgartner has long been an extreme thrill seeker. At 43, he has completed the highest parachute jump from a building at the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the lowest BASE jump – a paltry 95 feet from the hand of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue. And that’s just an abridged version of his resume.

However, it wasn’t until 2010 that Baumgartner joined up with scientists at the Red Bull Stratos program to begin working on the ultimate mission: the highest sky dive on record at 120,000 feet – which would hopefully break multiple records set by United States Air Force Colonel Joseph Kittinger in 1960. Many people have attempted to do this, but all have failed… and a few have even died.

Wearing a pressurised suit and helmet and traveling to jump height in a custom capsule propelled by a helium balloon made of polyurethane thinner than a sandwich bag, Felix hoped to not only break the sound barrier, but the record for time in freefall (which hovered around the 4.5 minute mark), fastest freefall and altitude. I would be hoping I made it to the ground alive, but some of us are more ambitious than others.

The location for the launch and landing was set for New Mexico, close to Roswell, as the weather in the area is seen as most conducive to necessary flight conditions. While Felix’s initial trip was scheduled for October 9, it was later postponed due to gusty wind. Eventually, it was determined that October 14 was the perfect day, and he began the 120 minute ascent to jump height. And then? Well, the gif above happened.

The jump was broadcast live on YouTube, and over 16 million people tuned in worldwide to take part in an unprecedented moment in human history. I don’t know about the others who watched it, but I personally had extremely sweaty palms and found myself hunched over my laptop with every limb tensed, repeating, “What? How? What?” over and over. Think about it: some of us bug out about going on a plane, which reaches a max of 38,000 feet or so in flight. Imagine going three times higher than that to 128,097 feet and then hurling yourself out into nothingness. Go ahead – I’ll wait while you collect the shards of your brain which have inevitably exploded.

While final confirmation is still pending on the exact numbers achieved during the feat, unofficial reports claim that Felix reached a peak speed of 729 miles per hour. Again – that’s faster than a commercial jet. While he missed the record for time in freefall by roughly 15 seconds, the other three for altitude, speed and breaking the sound barrier are pretty much in the bag. What an incredible feat.

Felix’s attempt captured me – and so many millions of people around the world, as well – I think because it proves the extreme capabilities of the human body, mind and really, spirit, as well. I’m not someone who believes that every frontier must be conquered, nor do I support doing dumb things for the sake of doing them. But Felix Baumgartner’s approach to what is seemingly his life mission – breaking barriers – seems deeply rooted in curiosity, fascination about and respect for the human experience. Sure, the adrenaline rush is undeniable, I imagine, but there is something to be said for the desire to test one’s own limitations and to better understand our potential as living beings and the incredible mass of rock we call home.

Watch Felix’s incredible jump below:

For more information about the mission and the two years of preparation leading up to it, be sure to check out the Red Bull Stratos website.

Gif image via BuzzFeed, Featured image via National Geographic

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