March 13, 2013 at 9:12 AM ET
The free fall from 25 miles above the Earth was rife with risks. Temperatures well below freezing. Too little oxygen to breathe. The danger of going into an uncontrolled spin where the body's blood would centrifuge away from the organs. Any of these perils could end in death.
So when space jumper Felix Baumgartner was named National Geographic's People's Choice Adventurer of the Year, it came as no surprise to National Geographic Adventure editor Mary Anne Potts. "I think everyone in our generation will remember Felix Baumgartner,” she said.
Readers cast over 55,000 votes on National Geographic's website, with a winning majority going to Felix Baumgartner, who jumped from a specially-designed balloon in the Earth's stratosphere on Oct. 14, 2012. Reaching a maximum vertical speed of 843.6 mph, or Mach 1.25, Baumgartner became the first person to break the speed of sound without a vehicle's protection or propulsion.
“It’s not about doing something dangerous,” Baumgartner said. “It’s about finding challenges that are meaningful to you, approaching them in a thoughtful way and, hopefully, expanding your boundaries.”
Even with three new world records to his name, the National Geographic recognition is “special to me for many reasons,” said Baumgartner, a former Austrian paratrooper. “National Geographic has a great history of covering aerospace missions, including the incredible 1960 jump of my mentor, Joe Kittinger."
"The fact that it was the people’s choice makes it especially important in my mind," said Baumgartner. "Throughout the planning for my jump... messages of support from people all over the world really kept me going. To know that, even months after the jump, so many people took the time to vote for me – that touches my heart.”
When he fell from space, “he inspired people, young and old, to dream big and find their own adventures,” said Potts.
And that's just what the adventurer wanted. “I’m sure I speak for the whole Red Bull Stratos team when I say that we hoped this jump would inspire people to follow their own dreams,” Baumgartner said. “I think it showed what can be accomplished with vision and teamwork – and lots of determination and persistence."
"We’ve been flooded with messages from kids and their parents and teachers, who tell us what the mission meant to them: it has definitely seemed to spark an interest in science as well as in following other passions," said Baumgartner. "That’s a legacy we can be proud of.”