WATCH: The free fall that set the 52-year-old record broken by Felix

Posted By GABRIELLE LEVY,  |  Oct. 15, 2012 at 11:45 AM
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Joe Kittinger was one of the lucky few that had a front-row seat to watch Felix Baumgartner's record-breaking feat Sunday.

Baumgartner became the first human to break the sound barrier unassisted by leaping from a capsule floating more than 24 miles above the Earth in near-space conditions, protected by nothing but a specialized suit and the training of thousands of practice jumps.

His leap--from 128,146 feet--became the highest ever platform jump ever attempted. The record he broke--102,800 feet--was set more than half a century ago by Joe Kittinger, who couldn't have been more pleased to watch his record fall along with Baumgartner.

Sitting in mission control in Roswell, New Mexico, Kittinger raised his arms above his head and cheered when Baumgartner successfully deployed his parachute four minutes and 20 seconds after stepping off the Red Bull Stratos capsule. Kittinger clapped his hands enthusiastically seven minutes later, when Baumgartner deftly landed on his feet.

Like the Red Bull Stratos mission, which was delayed from Tuesday to Sunday due to weather and nearly aborted when the mask of Baumgartner's helmet began to fog up, Kittinger's record-setting fall on August 16, 1960 experienced its own setbacks.

A tear in the fabric of his right-hand glove caused the pressurization to malfunction, and his hand swelled to twice its size.

"I didn't tell my flight surgeon because I didn't want to worry him," Kittinger explained. "And I also felt that if I had told him, he probably would have made me abort the flight, and I felt reasonably certain that I could survive not having a pressure suit glove on my right hand. So I continued on."

Like Baumgartner, Kittinger described the sensation of falling at near-supersonic speeds as like the feeling of being suspended because the atmosphere was so thin. Even after Sunday's attempt, Kittinger's 1960 jump still holds the record for the longest ever free fall at 4 minutes 36 seconds.

Below, watch Kittinger ascend in a balloon very similar to the one used Sunday, and see the first-hand few of a his fall to Earth from more than 19 miles up.

As it happens, the first human to break the sound barrier in a plane also ignored his own health to do so. Sixty-five years to the day before Baumgartner became the first human to do so unaided, Chuck Yeager became the first person to do it in an airplane--and he did so with the pain of two broken ribs.

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