On Sunday, the Austrian skydiver and helicopter pilot broke several records as part of the Red Bull Stratos mission. He traveled higher than any other human being ever had in a balloon, jumped from a greater height than had ever been realized and became the first man to break the speed of sound in freefall.
While the data is still being finalized and certified, it looks like Baumgartner reached a speed of 834.38 miles per hour, which works out to be Mach 1.24 at altitude. Such speeds are possible at high altitude, since the lack of atmosphere reduces the amount of drag on a falling object.
The most gripping point of the jump came about 90 seconds in, when Baumgartner went into a dangerous flat spin. He was able to slow his rotation using his arms, and quickly regained control to complete a nearly perfect jump.
While the Stratos mission may seem like an expensive publicity stunt for energy drink manufacturer Red Bull, it did generate valuable information on pressure suit design and the survivability of parachute jumping from extreme altitudes. The data gathered by Baumgartner on Sunday’s jump may help save the lives of future astronauts or space tourists.