He may be nicknamed Fearless Felix, but Austrian adventurer Felix Baumgartner is anything but reckless. The pilot, skydiver and high-altitude jumper stresses the importance of planning and understanding the science behind his daring feats. “If I do something, it’s always 90% obvious and 10% unknown,” Baumgartner told TIME.
It took five years for Baumgartner, 42, and the Red Bull Stratos team to prepare for Baumgartner’s jump from the edge of space this year, and it paid off. On October 14, 2012, Baumgartner rose up to the edge of the stratosphere—the second layer of Earth’s atmosphere—in a space capsule pulled by a helium balloon. Baumgartner then jumped from the space capsule 24 miles above ground. About nine minutes later, he landed safely on his feet in Roswell, New Mexico.
Baumgartner broke three world records: the highest manned balloon flight, the highest sky dive and the fastest jump. During his fall, he reached speeds up to 833.9 miles per hour, shattering the sound barrier. The speed of sound is measured at 761.2 miles per hour at sea level. Baumgartner is the first human to travel faster than the speed of sound without the use of a craft.
Scientists say the data collected during Baumgartner’s jump will help them break new ground in everything from space-suit design to aircraft-emergency procedures. The skydiver—who says he has a lot of fears but not a fear of heights—called the experience humbling and harder than he had expected. “Sometimes, you have to go up really high to understand how small you are,” he said.
Baumgartner was born in Salzburg, Austria, in 1969. He began skydiving when he was 16 years old. He went on to join the Austrian military’s demonstration and competition team. In the 1990s, he added BASE jumping to his skill set. That’s when a person parachutes from a fixed object or landform. Baumgartner also does charity work for the nonprofit Wings for Life Spinal Cord Research Foundation.
For his fearlessness in falling from unexplored heights and his contribution to scientific research, Felix Baumgartner is a nominee for TFK’s 2012 Person of the Year.