ROSWELL, New Mexico: Austrian extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner landed gracefully on Earth Sunday after a 38.6-kilometer jump from the stratosphere in a dramatic, record-breaking feat marking the world’s first supersonic skydive.
Baumgartner came down in the eastern New Mexico desert about nine minutes after jumping from his capsule 128,097 feet (39,044 meters), or roughly 24 miles (38.62 kilometers), above Earth. He lifted his arms in victory shortly after landing, setting off loud cheers from jubilant onlookers and friends inside the mission’s control center in Roswell, New Mexico.
“Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are,” an exuberant Baumgartner told reporters outside mission control, shortly after completing the jump.
Officials say Felix Baumgartner has become the first skydiver to break the speed of sound.
At a news conference, Brian Utley of the International Federation of Sports Aviation, says Baumgartner reached a maximum speed of 833.9 mph (1,342 kph) during his jump Sunday.
That amounts to Mach 1.24, which is faster than the speed of sound. No one has ever reached that speed wearing only a high-tech suit.
Hours earlier, Baumgartner, known as “Fearless Felix,” had taken off in a pressurized capsule carried by a 55-story ultra-thin helium balloon. After an at-times tense ascent, which included concerns about how well his facial shield was working, the 43-year-old former military parachutist completed a final safety check-list with mission control.
As he exited his capsule from high above Earth, he flashed a thumbs-up sign, well aware that the feat was being shown on a live-stream on the Internet with a 20-second delay.
Any contact with the capsule on his exit could have torn his pressurized suit, a rip that could expose him to a lack of oxygen and temperatures as low as minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 57 degrees Celsius). That could have caused lethal bubbles to form in his bodily fluids.
But none of that happened. He activated his parachute as he neared Earth, gently gliding into the desert east of Roswell and landing without any apparent difficulty.
Coincidentally, Baumgartner’s attempted feat also marked the 65th anniversary of U.S. test pilot Chuck Yeager’s successful attempt to become the first man to officially break the sound barrier aboard an airplane.
At Baumgartner’s insistence, some 30 cameras on the capsule, the ground and a helicopter recorded the event Sunday. While it had been pegged as a live broadcast, organizers said was actually under a 20-second delay in case of a tragic accident.
Shortly after launch, screens at mission control showed the capsule as it began rising high above the New Mexico desert, with cheers erupting from organizers. Baumgartner could be seen on video, calmly checking instruments inside the capsule.
Baumgartner’s team included Joe Kittinger, who first attempted to break the sound barrier from 31.4 kilometers up in 1960, reaching a speed of 988 kph, just under the sound barrier. With Kittinger inside mission control Sunday, the two men could be heard going over technical details during the ascension. “Our guardian angel will take care of you,” Kittinger radioed to Baumgartner around the 30,000-meter mark. Kittinger noted that, it was getting “really serious” now.
Austrian leaders were quick to congratulate Baumgartner.
“I warmly congratulate Felix Baumgartner on this great success, which was achieved with courage and perseverance and is finding worldwide attention,” President Heinz Fischer reacted on his Facebook page.
“Austria is proud of your accomplishment,” he added.
On Twitter, half the worldwide trending topics had something to do with the jump, pushing past seven National Football League games.