On October 14, 2012, Felix Baumgartner of Austria accomplished one of the most insane, unimaginably badass things I’ve ever seen. As part of a project called Red Bull Stratos, Baumgartner rode a balloon pod upwards of 24 miles above the Earth… then jumped off. During the descent, he reached speeds in excess of the speed of sound - up to Mach 1.24 - becoming the first human being to do this without any kind of engine power.
As I watched this unfurl with millions of others around the world, including most of my Twitter timeline, disbelief slowly turned into outright anxiety as the sheer insanity of the jump took hold. The Earth became smaller and smaller as the balloon rose to incredible altitudes. When Felix opened the pod and dangled his feet outside, it was almost hard to watch. If something went wrong, we all knew what could happen.
Yet, amazingly, the jump went off fine, even when Felix started spinning. He was able to regain control, and preliminary analysis suggests he broke three of the four records he hoped to - highest manned balloon flight, highest skydive, and first human to reach the speed of sound without a vehicle. It just goes to show that mankind can still accomplish incredible things - given the right motivations and the perfect combination of courage and insanity.