History was made on October 14, 2012, when Felix Baumgartner became the first person to break the sound barrier without the use of an aircraft. Baumgartner rode in a capsule connected to a high powered helium filled balloon to a height of 128,100 feet (approximately 24.3 miles), entering the stratosphere. This also broke the world record for the highest man powered balloon flight. The fall back to Earth took nine minutes and nine seconds, with four minutes and 22 seconds of free fall time. Before releasing his parachute, Baumgartner reached an estimated speed of 833.9 miles per hour. That’s well past the sound barrier and the fastest speed ever reached by a person without an aircraft.
A person cannot complete the free fall from the height and at the speed that Baumgartner did without preparation. Baumgartner spent five years training for the high altitude jump. He practiced jumps from heights up to 71,000 feet many times before he was ready to break the record. The morning of the jump, Baumgartner had to breathe from an oxygen tank to eliminate any nitrogen in his blood for safety reasons. Once the capsule reached its designated height, Baumgartner had to go through a 39 item safety checklist to make sure he was totally ready for the jump.
Without the suit and helmet Baumgartner was in, he would not have been able to survive the fall through the stratosphere. He would have been dead before he reached the ground. The suit was designed to protect Baumgartner from the 100 degree heat and -90 degree coldness that he would go though without the suit. His suit was pressurized at 3.5 pounds per square inch. This kept Baumgartner safe, because above a height of about 62,000 feet the water in his tissues would turn to gas and expand. The helmet and visor connected to the suit, protecting Baumgartner’s head.
Because of the precautions taken and the technology in the suit that Felix Baumgartner was able to break the sound barrier without an aircraft and make history.
By Ryan Mutchler