Call it one giant leap for a man, one small step for mankind.
On October 14, 2012, Felix Baumgartner opened the hatch to a capsule suspended from a helium balloon floating some 24 miles above eastern New Mexico. Having just set the record for the highest manned balloon ascent, the Austrian skydiver would now attempt to do the same for the highest parachute jump.
Guided by the upbeat Florida drawl of veteran US Air Force parachutist Joseph Kittinger, who 52 years earlier had set the records that Mr. Baumgartner was now in the process of breaking, Baumgartner checked to make sure that the five GoPro cameras strapped to his pressure suit were on, disconnected his oxygen hose, undid his seat belt and helmet tie-down strap, and stepped gently away from the capsule, dropping head first into the awaiting stratosphere.
He fell quickly. Facing very little air resistance, within 42 seconds Baumgartner had reached a top speed of 843.6 miles per hour, becoming the first human to break the sound barrier without assistance from a jet engine.
But just as he was reaching Mach 1, Baumgartner was starting to rotate ever faster. As his free-fall passed the one-minute mark, he was flat on his back, spinning uncontrollably. The curved horizon of the desert and the blackness of space pirouetted wildly around him, as centrifugal forces pushed his bodily fluids into his head and feet.
"Feels like I have to pass out," he said.
But within thirty seconds Baumgartner had righted himself. "Stable as a rock," Kittinger could be heard saying.
After a total of four minutes of free-fall, Baumgartner pulled the ripcord, parachuting safely back to Earth.
On Friday, GoPro published to YouTube previously unreleased footage of Baumgartner's harrowing jump, a portion of which the camera-maker included in their Super Bowl ad.
Baumgartner's jump was largely a publicity stunt, in the most literal sense of the word, for the liquid stimulant purveyor Red Bull, which according to one Austrian newspaper spent about $70 million on the event. But the "Red Bull Stratos" team said they hoped that the record-breaking jump would yield valuable scientific data, perhaps helping to develop escape systems for spacecraft.
"Part of this programme was to show high-altitude egress, passing through Mach and a successful re-entry back [to subsonic speed], because our belief scientifically is that's going to benefit future private space programmes or high-altitude pilots; and Felix proved that today," Art Thompson, the team principal, told the BBC.