Supersonic skydiver reached 844 mph in record jump

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CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. (AP) - Supersonic skydiver Felix Baumgartner was faster than he or anyone else thought during his record-setting jump last October from 24 miles up.

The Austrian parachutist known as “Fearless Felix” reached 843.6 mph, according to official numbers released Monday. That’s equivalent to Mach 1.25, or 1.25 times the speed of sound.

His top speed initially was estimated at 10 mph slower at 834 mph, or Mach 1.24.

Either way, he became the first human to break the sound barrier with only his body. He wore a pressurized suit and hopped from a capsule hoisted by a giant helium balloon over New Mexico.

Baumgartner was supersonic for a half-minute _ “quite remarkable,” according to Brian Utley, the record-keeping official who was present for the Oct. 14 feat.

The 43-year-old’s heart rate remained below 185 beats a minute, and his breathing was fairly steady.

The leap was from an altitude of 127,852 feet. That’s 248 feet lower than original estimates, but still stratospheric.

“He jumped from a little bit lower, but he actually went a little bit faster, which was pretty exciting,” said Art Thompson, technical project director for the Red Bull-sponsored project.

“It’s fun for us to see reaching Mach speeds and proving out a lot of the safety systems,” Thompson said in a phone interview from his aerospace company in Lancaster, Calif.

Thompson said everything pretty much unfolded as anticipated, with no big surprises in the final report. The updated records were provided by Utley, official observer for the National Aeronautic Association’s contest and records board. Utley was in Roswell, N.M., for Baumgartner’s grand finale following two test jumps.

Based on all the data collected from sensors on Baumgartner’s suit, Utley determined that Baumgartner was 34 seconds into his jump when he reached Mach 1. The speed for breaking the sound barrier depends on the temperature at a given altitude; for Baumgartner, that came together just shy of 110,000 feet.

He reached peak speed by the time he was at 91,300 feet, 50 seconds into the jump, and was back to subsonic by 75,300 feet, give or take, 64 seconds into his free fall.

His entire free fall lasted four minutes, 20 seconds. He used a parachute to cover the final 5,000 feet, landing on his feet in the desert outside Roswell.

Not everything went well.

Baumgartner went into a dreaded flat spin while still supersonic. He spun for 13 seconds at approximately 60 revolutions per minute, making 14 to 16 spins before using his body to regain control, Thompson said. The skydiver was well within safety limits the entire time, he noted. Baumgartner’s brain remained under 2G, or two times the force of gravity, during the spin.

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