Extreme Skydiver Breaks World Records With Dive From Near-Space

Image: RedBull
Felix Baumgartner with his feet on the ground following an 11-minute descent from near space. Image: Red Bull

Lots of people go skydiving. They jump out of an airplane, with a parachute, and sail down to Earth.

But on Sunday, Felix Baumgartner took it to new heights.


Well, near-space, anyway.

Baumgartner rode in a helium balloon 39 kilometres above New Mexico.

And then he jumped out.

It sounds simple, but it was far from it.

Here are some facts about what happens when you jump from that distance, 128,000 feet (24.2 miles or 39 kilometres) above the Earth:

  • You travel at more than 1,100 kilometers an hour for about the first four and a half minutes.
  • At that speed, you likely break the sound barrier because you’re going faster than the speed of sound.
  • When you break the sound barrier, the shock waves are so great that you require a special suit to protect you.
  • The atmosphere at that height is so thin that it’s very difficult to control where your body goes. A “flat spin” could have rendered Baumgartner unconscious.
  • Any tear in his suit would have exposed him to extreme temperatures (as low as -57 C) and a lack of oxygen.
  • It takes nearly three hours to get up into near-space.
  • That high up, the atmosphere is a vacuum with almost no oxygen.

With his jump, Baumgartner broke three world records: for the highest manned balloon ride ever, the fastest freefall and and the highest altitude jump. And he became the only human to break the sound barrier outside of an airplane. “Breaking the sound barrier” means that he went faster than the speed of sound.

USAF (retired) Colonel Joseph Kittinger talked Baumgartner through his ascent, went over the list of things he had to do just before his jump, and encouraged him during his fall.

Kittinger holds the record for longest freefall, which he set on Aug. 16, 1960. And although Baumgartner was in freefall for  four minutes and 22 seconds, he didn’t quite break Kittinger’s record.

There were a couple of glitches during Baumgartner’s feat. There was a problem with his visor. And during the fall, Baumgartner started spinning. However, both of those issues worked themselves out, and he came down to earth safe and sound, in about 11 minutes.

Baumgartner’s dive provided publicity for a sponsor, Red Bull (a soft drink manufacturer). But it was more than that. NASA is using the information to help them perfect their space suits. They are also collecting data that may help future astronauts survive in space–for instance, if something goes wrong and they have to bail out from a high altitude.

For the extreme athlete from Austria, nicknamed “Fearless Felix,” breaking world records is nothing new. Baumgartner was already the first person to skydive across the English Channel (as a practice flight for his big jump).

With this spectacular feat, Baumgartner is retiring from extreme jumping. He said he plans to fly rescue helicopters in the U.S. and Austria as his future career.

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By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Are you a thrill seeker? A daredevil? Why do you think some people are willing to risk serious injury or even death to thrill others?

Reading Prompt: Text Features
Today’s article includes several bullet points. Why do you think the author chose to organize the information this way? How does your reading change when you read bullet points?

Primary & Junior
Identify a variety of text features and explain how they help readers understand texts (OME, Reading: 2.3).

Identify a variety of text features and explain how they help communicate meaning (OME, Reading: 2.3).

Grammar Feature: Sentences
Sentences are statements. They are a complete idea with a noun (a person, place or thing) and a verb (an action). But today’s article includes sentences that “break” this rule. One sentence reads, “And then he jumped out.” Another simply states, “Well, near-space, anyway.” But most bizarre of all, one sentence is just one word, “Space.”

Why do you think the author chose to “break” the sentence rules when writing today’s story? Do you think it is a good idea for a writer to play around with grammar rules? Why or why not?