New Moment in History

As many of you know, space history was once again re-made when Austrian Felix Baumgartner jumped from the stratosphere on Sunday 14 October in Mexico, breaking two world records – the highest ever skydive at 128,000 feet/39,000m and becoming the first human to break the sound barrier.

He was chaperoned along the way by 84 year-old Joe Kittinger, who 52 years ago made the same jump at the height of 3,100m, on 16 August 1960, creating records of his own.

During the jump, the pressure in Kittinger’s right glove failed. Though his hand eventually swelled to double its size, he decided not to tell his team and to go ahead with the mission, in case they wanted him to abort. So instead, he jumped.

See here for more on Kittinger’s jumps and the video of his third fall:

Joe Kittinger’s original series of jumps are the reason I became interested in the Red Bull Stratos jump. In my previous job working for the Viasat History channel, we planned to show a programme about his jumps in 1959 and 1960 that would coincide with Baumgartner’s jump which was originally due to take place a couple of years ago, had it not been for legal action taken against the project that temporarily put it on hold.

Two years later, and the jump was back on.

The Red Bull Stratos team did have to abort the first mission, due to high winds on Tuesday 9 October. With only one back up balloon left, the jump had to be made on the following Sunday… and the balloon launched perfectly.

But for a moment, it seemed as though this jump would have to be aborted as well, when Baumgartner flagged a serious problem: his faceplate visor failed to heat up on the practise run, which would have meant a steamed visor in the cold temperature. But they decided to go ahead anyway.

Watching it live, I had that feeling that all those people had back at the time of the first moon landing on 20 July 1969. It sent a shiver down my neck when Baumgartner pulled the hatch away and looked out to a view of the earth’s curvature, and Joe Kittinger chuckled and said something like,

“There’s the whole world right in front of you.”

 

 

And then he said a few words,

“Sometimes you have to be really high to see how small you really are. I’m going home now.”

 

 

I was practically crying watching this, just watching that tiny figure tumbling in the sky.

Troubles occurred when he got caught up temporarily in a death spin – a deadly spin that every skydiver aims to avoid, as the spinning causes blood to run to the diver’s head or completely away from it, eventually making them pass out, which happened to Kittinger during one of his jumps. You can see the moments of Baumgartner’s death spin in this crazy video from his perspective:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/video/2012/oct/15/felix-baumgartner-skydive-spin-video?intcmp=239

But he managed to get out of it pretty swiftly, and landed – running on his feet like a pro making just a normal routine landing – before falling to his knees with immense happiness.