Skydiver breaks speed of sound after jumping from edge of space

Ars Technica » Scientific Method 2012-10-23

An Austrian daredevil survived a jump from a balloon more than 24 miles above earth on Sunday morning. In the process, he set a world record for the highest jump and became the first skydiver to break the speed of sound, according to various news reports.

Felix Baumgartner stepped from an enormous helium balloon that, at 128,100 feet above the eastern New Mexico desert, was at the edge of space. He wore a pressurized suit to protect his body from the near vacuum, which because of the extremely thin air, allowed his free fall to reach the speed of 690 miles per hour in the first 40 seconds according to CNN. His highest estimated speed was 833.9 mph, a would-be world record. His free fall lasted for four minutes and 21 seconds, falling a total of 119,846 ft.

It took the 43-year-old Baumgartner two hours and 21 minutes to reach the altitude. The ascent included a critical 4,000-foot stretch known as the "dead zone," during which it would be impossible for him to parachute to safety should something have gone amiss, The New York Times reported. His balloon was made of 40 acres of ultrathin plastic that was described as an inflated dry-cleaning bag big enough to fill the Los Angeles Coliseum. It was the largest balloon ever used for a manned flight.

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