Total success. After many delays, Felix did it. He reached the highest altitude ever reached by any man in a balloon, more than 127,000 feet. He then jumped and fell faster than any man, breaking Mach 1 (it's unofficial for now, they have to confirm it).
The first launch was aborted at the very last minute last Tuesday because of a surge in strong winds. But today, except for a problem with the heating on Felix's helmet faceplate that obscured his vision during the descent, everything went perfectly.
He did it, people. He jumped from the edge of space, broke some cool records, got vital info for NASA, and survived. What an amazing adventure this has been. Kudos to you, Felix. As you were falling faster than any man in history, you made our collective hearts stop, then swell. Congratulations!.
2:44PM I have to admit I teared up because of the emotion and the adrenaline. This has been an incredible ride. I will be updating the article with the space jump video replay with information about all the records he has broken today.
I hope you enjoyed all this as much as I did. Thank you for watching and reading!
2:22PM Felix mom's tears of happiness.
2:19PM This is wild.
2:17PM JUMP COMPLETED. TOTAL SUCCESS.
2:12PM Chute has opened! This is incredible. This guy is awesome.
2:07PM He surpassed the sound speed!
2:06PM I'm freaking out right now.
2:04PM OMG. Door is open. What a view. He's doing it! Releasing the seatbelt now. He's breathing hard.
1:59PM His suit is pressurized and the cabin is depressurizing.
1:56PM Seat is in position, he's depressurizing the capsule and pressurizing the suit.
1:52PM My blood pressure is rising. This is crazy.
1:47PM Wow. 127,000 feet now!
1:44PM We are approaching float point, past the 122,000-foot mark and still ascending. Mission control confirms JUMP IS GO. This is great.
1:37PM The capsule is slowing down now, as the pressure between the atmosphere and the helium inside the blog equalizes.
1:36PMThe highest manned ballon flight was set by Lieutenant Commander Victor A. Prather Jr. and US Navy Reserve Captain Malcolm D. Ross, who climbed up to 113,740 feet in May 4, 1961. Prather died after returning from that flight, drowning in the Gulf of Mexico: his spacesuit flooded, and he drowned before the Navy could rescue him. Ross survived.
1:33PM First record broken. He's now higher than the previous point achieved by Pratter and Ross, 113,740 feet.
1:30PM Here's the balloon expanding as it keeps ascending. We are approaching the first record: highest altitude of man in a balloon.
1:23PM All systems nominal except for the visor heating. They are still troubleshooting.
1:13PM Felix has passed now his own record line and is approaching the Kittinger line, 102,000 feet. The balloon keeps to inflate even more, as the pressure outside decreases and the helium particles keep pushing out. It's changing its shape and getting really huge. Like this:
1:11PM There's nothing they can do about the visor heating now. As the capsule keeps going up and the atmosphere gets thiner, the temperature is rising again.
1:03PM It's the faceplate heating that is not working. The faceplate heating prevents the visor from getting foggy, which is obviously essential for Felix to see properly. They are troubleshooting it.
1:00PM Here's a video recap of the launch, which happened this morning at 11:30am EDT. It was a perfect launch. Click to expand or watch it here.
12:55PM Something awesome to keep in mind: the atmosphere is so thin at 23 miles high that Felix is supposed to break Mach 1, the speed of sound, only 30 seconds after jumping. Then he will keep that speed for 20 seconds until he starts slowing down again because of the friction with air particles, as the atmosphere gets denser.
12:54PM Felix seems completely serene and in control. He just sip some water, to keep hydrated.
12:51PM At 76,000 feet, everything except the slight course and space suit heating trouble seems ok. The oxygen level in the capsule is below 30 percent—which is the fire hazard safety limit—and still pressurized.
12:49PM Felix dropped some ballast to avoid getting off the projected path as much as possible. The wind at that altitude was pushing the balloon off its course. Mission control is talking about dropping even more ballast to go up faster and pass that wind area as soon as possible.
12:44PM There has not been any further update on the space daredevil's suit conditions. We are crossing our fingers, hoping that everything is ok. Remember, it's -87ºF/-66ºC outside. While the temperature in the capsule is 52.3F/12.3C, he will have to go out of the capsule at the time of the jump.
There's no comment so far on how the heating unit failure may affect Felix or its current state.
12:33PM Mission control cut the sound after Felix told KIttinger now. The conditions outside are rough, as he passes the Armstrong Line: outside is -86.7ºF. The cabin is heated, so the temperature is higher there. We will see if they can get that chest heating unit to work before jump.
12:29PM OK, things just got a bit serious up there: some of the heating in the suit is not working. "The light is on, but I don't feel the heat," Felix just said.
12:25PM The checklist goes through all the necessary steps to make the jump. Roughly, they will have to slowly depressurize the capsule in order to open the door safely. Otherwise it will explode. As they do that, the suit will inflate to provide the needed conditions for Felix to survive.
After that, he will have to disconnect umbilical cords, stow them safely, move the seat, open the door, start his cameras and finally jump. It's a long process with more than forty steps.
12:21PM Felix is now going through the checklist before the jump. It's a rehearsal, not the actual checklist check towards launch.
12:20PM They are now in the stratosphere.
12:19PM This is Felix's mom, crying when he launched.
12:15PM Felix says he's venting a little bit, but that's ok.
12:11PM Another cockpit check. 14ºC/57ºF inside the capsule. 45,400 feet altitude. 26.5% oxygen. All systems nominal. No bad stuff happening. Outside, -91ºF.
12:10PM Video is back. If you are having any problems with video, try in Chrome.
12:06PM Video feed is broken, but the mission is going as expected. Hopefully it will be back up before they reach "float", the balloon's maximum altitude.
11:58AM Felix in the capsule, talking with Kittinger and attending the controls:
11:54AM We have lost video signal.
11:50AM The capsule is pressurized at 16,000 feet now. Felix is on the right path. This is not as simple as just jumping in a balloon and that's it, people. Felix has to adjust oxygen rate, pressure, and keep control of the capsule.
11:49AM Sky is getting dark!
11:45AM 120 minutes. Two hours to go to the top of the world! There's not enough oxygen to breath right now, at 20,900 feet. He's ascending at 1,000 feet per minute.
11:44AM Felix feels well, and everything seems to be going perfect. Cabin temperature is 11 degrees Celsius.
11:39AM They are doing a capsule check right now. Kittinger and Baumgartner going through it. Joe is Felix's link with mission control.
11:38AM12,411 feet. A long way to go. It will take about 2 to 2:30 hours to get to the top.
11:36AM Must be so quiet in there.
11:35AM They have cleared the danger zone. All is good right now.
11:34AM Kittinger: "everything is great and you are on your way to space... everything looking good."
11:30AM Here we go! The launch is happening.
11:27AM And we are go! Moments away from launch. Here's a shot as they were closing the capsule.
11:25AM It's happening! One minute for broadcast start.
11:17AM They may launch earlier than expected! The winds are going down quickly. Not 7 to 5MPH. That's way lower than the 10 knots limit.
11:11AM Sigh. They have delayed the countdown now. 47 minutes.
10:50AM Well, there's a good change that this is going to happen, folks. The weather is going as predicted, they are inflating the balloon and they are moving the capsule now. Mission control is saying 23:00 minutes to launch right now.
10:46AM It seems the balloon is being inflated. All systems go, winds calming down.
10:42AM Official countdown is at 32 minutes now, but no balloon inflation has happened yet. Perhaps it's time to review all the records that hopefully would be broken today. Just after they update us on weather at 10:45AM.
10:39AM OK, so Felix can go to the bathroom anytime he wants thanks—but can he bit his nails. I would be chewing them all the way up to my knuckles at this point.
10:29AM This is neat: bubbles floating at different altitudes over the launch site to show the wind direction. They call them piballs. Come on piballs, stop moving around!
10:19AM Countdown has resumed. 55 minutes to go for launch.
10:15AM Weather hold has been lifted. According to mission control, they are optimistic and moving forward with preparations for launch.
10:02AM We are getting a weather update at 10:15AM EDT. Fingers crossed.
9:59AM Here's an image outside the capsule showing Felix going through a checklist with Joe Kittinger at mission control. Kittinger—then a United States Air Force Captain—got the highest altitude jump record on August 16, 1960. Kittinger jumped from the Excelsior III balloon, which at the time was flying at 102,800 feet-that's 19.47 miles or 31 kilometers up in the sky. Felix will do at least 120,000 feet, 23 miles.
9:52AM The latest image of Felix from inside the capsule. He is breathing pure oxygen now. The objective is to remove as much nitrogen from his blood as possible. If there's too much nitrogen in his circulatory system, it may expand as he gains altitude, causing damage to his tissue and potentially killing him.
9:47AM Mission control says the winds at the projected top of the balloon are still too high for launch, but the forecast is still good for launch. They are calm on the surface, but the balloon is really tall, so they have to take into account the winds at higher altitudes so the launch happens without any incident. That's why they are holding the inflation at this moment.
9:38AM It wasn't that way at the beginning of the space program. When Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space, was inside his Mercury capsule on May 5, 1961, waiting for the Freedom 7 mission launch, he didn't have one. But he waited and waited, so he had to pee. This is the dialog that ensued with Gordon Cooper, another member of the legendary Mercury Seven, at mission control:
Gordo: Go, Alan
Shepard: Man, I got to pee.
Gordo: You what?
Shepard: You heard me. I've got to pee. I've been up here forever.
And so he did, causing a short-circuit in the medical sensors. After that, astronauts go diapers.
9:35AM The answer is this: a "Maximum Absorbency Garment", as NASA calls it. Or space diaper. This is what astronauts have to wear inside their suits in case they have to go while strapped into their spaceship. You just can unstrap and get the astronaut outside of the suit in case of emergency. Like Felix, once you are in, you have to do it in.
You can see this space diaper in the this video, which I had the opportunity to, huh, see and touch, before a shuttle launch in the Kennedy Space Center.
9:29AM Felix is now inside the capsule and waiting for the countdown to resume. It's going to be a long wait till launch and then return to Earth—could be five hours or more till he's back. So the question in everyone's mind is: what happens if he has to go to the restroom?
9:18AM It seems Felix is already inside the capsule, getting ready.
9:15AM New launch time is now 11:00AM EDT, 9:00AM in Roswell, New Mexico. Wind is getting good.
9:12AM Broadcast has started. Here they are, preparing the capsule. Deja vu. Let's hope the weather behaves this time.
9:01AM All system go, but weather hold still in place. Mission control has informed that Felix is now pre-breathing. This is the first step before he gets into the capsule. At this point, Felix is adjusting to the conditions that he will have to endure for most of his flight to the edge of space. As you can see in this image, the mission control watch is at just below minus two hours, the expected window for launch:
8:55AM This is how things are looking now from inside the capsule, from Stratos' internal feed: beautiful clear skies as the sun rises over the desert:
8:51AM It seems that broadcast may start now at 9:00 ET.
8:38AM One thing to remember: once Felix launches, it will be a three-hour trip until he lands safely back somewhere around Roswell. The trip up will be quite a ride, though. I hope Felix talks live about his impressions as he ascends and the cameras shows us the live video. Then I hope he actually screams "Geronimo!" when he jumps.
The onboard cameras and the suit cameras will show all this, streaming the video down to Earth along with medical and telemetry data in real time.
8:33AM To recap: there's now a weather hold, and the launch window opens at 10:45AM ET (8:45am in New Mexico).
8:20AM What an airstreamer, you ask? An auto caravan, like those used by NASA for carrying and holding astronauts. This is how one of NASA's looks:
8:18AM According to Stratos, right now we are 2:27 hours away from the beginning of the broadcast.
8:14AM Baumgartner has his full suit on. This is him concentrating inside the prep room, in his airstreamer:
7:55AM There's a 30 minute weather hold but, according to mission control, the team is optimistic for earliest launch at 10:00AM EDT (8AM in Roswell, New Mexico). Unnerving doesn't even start to describe this. The wind is now 13 knots at balloon top and there's a limit of 10 knots. Stupid wind.
7:40AM Things are moving on, people. Felix is putting on his spacesuit. Let's hope the weather is not going to kill the jump. It must be stressful to go through this process again and again. Look at him now:
5:00AM They have launched the radiosonde into the atmosphere, which will measure the wind through most of Felix's trip. Check it out:
4:34AM Here's a shot of the satellite trucks parked outside of mission control right now. They will power up as we get closer to launch time.
4:22AM We will update if anything changes and start full live coverage before launch time. Video broadcast is expected to start at 8:00am EDT.
4:10AM This illustration shows exactly the process and records that Felix will break. On the left: one of Felix's last training sessions in a photo from Sunday, October 7. Click on the images to expand them to full screen.
4:05am How large is large, you ask? Taller than the statue of liberty. Check out this comparison:
It's 334.82 feet (102.05 meters) tall and can hold 30 million cubic foot (843,497 cubic meters) of helium gas.