Yesterday, while the space shuttle Endeavour slowly trudged through the streets of Los Angeles, symbolizing the demise of a publicly funded space program, Felix Baumgartner soared high above Earth. The Austrian skydiver, part of the Red Bull Stratos team, shattered records and proved that privately funded space exploration might be the next wave as investors and corporations keep the space race alive.
The 43-year-old leaped 24 miles back to Earth, not only setting a record for the highest human free fall but also becoming the first skydiver to break the speed of sound without any sort of aircraft. Millions watched the event live on YouTube as he fell to the New Mexican desert at 833.9 mph. The jump also shattered records on the Google-owned site as 8 million people sat in front of their computers to watch it happen.
The 4-minute 20-second jump had viewers sitting on the edge of their seats as Baumgartner dropped 128,000 feet from the sky. It was harrowing to watch, but the skydiver recounted that it was even scarier in the air.
"The exit was perfect but then I started spinning slowly. I thought I'd just spin a few times and that would be that, but then I started to speed up. It was really brutal at times. I thought for a few seconds that I'd lose consciousness. I didn't feel a sonic boom because I was so busy just trying to stabilize myself... It was really a lot harder than I thought it was going to be."
The Austrian's parachute opened up around 8,000 feet, and it was smooth sailing from there down to the ground. His relieved family watched from the Red Bull control center, and tears flowed freely as soon as they realized Baumgartner would successfully complete his mission.
While some critics dismissed the event as a big publicity stunt or questioned the $65 million expense, those naysayers were silenced yesterday. Baumgartner proved the strength of the human spirit and the inspired dreams of future scientific achievements. He truly lives up to his nickname, "Fearless Felix."
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