Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner started skydiving at age 16 and spent time in the Austrian army as a paratrooper demonstrating for competition team. In 1988, he began performing skydiving exhibitions for Red Bull. The company’s out-of-the-box thinking and Felix’s adventurous spirit clicked, and they’ve collaborated ever since. He went on to perform a series of daredevil feats, including becoming the first person to jump from one of the twin 1,483-foot-high Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, then the world’s tallest buildings, in 1999, and becoming the first person to skydive across the English Channel using a carbon-fiber wing, in 2003. He also set a record for lowest BASE jump (from Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue).
The record-breaking 2012 jump was more than five years in the making and involved a team of engineers, scientists and other aeronautic experts who custom-designed Baumgartner’s equipment, including his pressurized space suit (intended to prevent his blood from boiling at high altitudes). In 2010 the project, which was financed by energy drink company Red Bull, hit a roadblock when Baumgartner started having panic attacks while undergoing endurance tests in his pressurized suit and helmet. However, a sports psychologist eventually helped him learn to cope with his claustrophobia. On the morning of October 14, 2012, a 550-foot-high helium balloon made of 40 acres of ultrathin plastic lifted the capsule carrying Baumgartner, nicknamed “Fearless Felix,” from the launch site at Roswell International Air Center. After reaching an altitude of 127,852.4 feet, Baumgartner stepped off the capsule and plunged toward Earth. His descent took nine minutes and 18 seconds—four minutes and 20 seconds of it in a free fall of 119,431 feet, during which he reached a top speed of 843.6 miles per hour, or Mach 1.25. Specially designed cameras positioned inside and outside of his capsule, as well as on the ground, enabled millions of people around the world to watch Baumgartner live online and on television. At an altitude of 8,421 feet above sea level, he deployed his parachute and went on to land smoothly in the desert. In addition to breaking the sound barrier, Baumgartner also set a new record for the highest-altitude jump.