2012: Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner broke records—and the speed of sound—during a 128,000 foot jump from a hot-air balloon over the New Mexico desert. “Fearless Felix,” who previously completed parachute dives from the Petronas Towers in Malaysia and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, spent five years preparing for the descent, which was not without a few tense moments. CNN reports:
He experienced a few hitches. About three minutes in, he reported, “My visor is fogging up.” Then he began to veer into a “flat spin” that threatened to send blood rushing to his head and leave him out of control.
“There was a period of time where I really thought, ‘I am in trouble,’ “ Baumgartner said, recalling how he considered pushing a button that would have released a drogue chute, slowing and stabilizing his descent—and scuttling the attempt to break the sound barrier.
“But after a couple of seconds, I had that feeling I'm getting it under control. And I did,” he added. “And that's why I broke the speed of sound today.
1797: André-Jacques Garnerin, a French balloonist and inventor, spent his three years as an Austrian prisoner of war imagining a device that would allow aeronauts to escape safely from damaged balloons. After early flights that used a dog as test subject, Garnerin himself staged a balloon ascent and parachute jump in Paris’ Parc Monceau, while his friends on the ground breathlessly awaited his safe arrival:
For a few seconds the consummation of his fate seemed to be altogether inevitable, the parachute obstinately retaining the collapsed position in which it had initially ascended. All of a sudden, however, it burst into its proper shape, and the downward progress of the adventurer had at once to have been arrested. The fears of the spectators now began to assume another aspect: the moment the parachute had expanded, the car of the aeronaut, which was suspended about twenty feet below it, shot out on one side with an impetus that almost brought it upon a level with the rest of the apparatus, and for an instant seemed to threaten the subversion of the whole.
It soon commenced a series of violent oscillations, which for a considerable time seemed to render the issue of the experiment a matter of much uncertainty. As he approached the earth, however, these gradually became fainter, and although they never entirely disappeared, soon ceased to excite the immediate apprehension of his friends.
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