The world record for the highest parachute jump belongs to Colonel Joe Kittinger (USAF, retired), who jumped from a helium balloon at 102,800 feet (over 19 miles) as part of the the U.S. Air Force's Project Excelsior. The purpose of the jump was to test pressure suit design, and to verify that such a free fall could be survivable. Kittinger, then an Air Force captain, hit a top speed of 614 miles per hour during his descent, which was later estimated to be 9/10 of the speed of sound. He was in free fall for four minutes and thirty six seconds before deploying his main chute at 17,500 feet.
The jump occurred on August 16, 1960, and remains a world record. An Austrian parachutist will attempt a 120,000 foot jump, sponsored by Red Bull, during the summer of 2010.