Roswell: Diving at a speed faster than the sound, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner has become the first man in history to make the highest jump ever – from a whopping altitude of 128,000 feet.
‘Fearless Felix’, as he is known, is the first skydiver to have smashed the sound barrier by reaching a maximum velocity of 833.9mph (1,342km/h), when he staged a daring death defying act of plunging from a balloon that had reached an altitude of 24 miles above the Earth and then landing safely in the New Mexico desert.
According to initial information available, Felix achieved a speed of Mach 1.24, or 833.9 mph, and became the first person to reach supersonic speed without traveling in a jet or a spacecraft after hopping out of a capsule that had reached an altitude of 128,100 feet above the Earth.
Landing on his feet in the desert, the man known as "Fearless Felix" lifted his arms in victory to the cheers of jubilant friends and spectators who closely followed his descent in a live television feed at the command center.
"Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are," an exuberant Baumgartner told reporters outside mission control after the jump.
"When I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble, you do not think about breaking records anymore, you do not think about gaining scientific data," he said after the jump. "The only thing you want is to come back alive."
A worldwide audience watched live on the Internet via cameras mounted on his capsule as Baumgartner, wearing a pressurized suit, stood in the doorway of his pod, gave a thumbs-up and leapt into the stratosphere.
Baumgartner's descent lasted just over nine minutes, about half of it in a free fall of 119,846 feet, according to Brian Utley, a jump observer from the FAI, an international group that works to determine and maintain the integrity of aviation records. He said the speed calculations were preliminary figures.
During the first part of Baumgartner's free fall, anxious onlookers at the command center held their breath as he appeared to spin uncontrollably.
Baumgartner said traveling faster than sound is "hard to describe because you don't feel it." The pressurized suit prevented him from feeling the rushing air or even the loud noise he made when breaking the sound barrier.
The 43-year-old former Austrian paratrooper with more than 2,500 jumps behind him had taken off early Sunday in a capsule carried by a 55-story ultra-thin helium balloon.
His ascent was tense at times and included concerns about how well his facial shield was working.
Any contact with the capsule on his exit could have torn his suit, a rip that could expose him to a lack of oxygen and temperatures as low as minus-70 degrees. 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 about 40 miles east of Roswell and landing smoothly. The images triggered another loud cheer from onlookers at mission control, among them his mother, Eva Baumgartner, who was overcome with emotion, crying.
He then was taken by helicopter to meet fellow members of his team, whom he hugged in celebration.
At Baumgartner's insistence, some 30 cameras recorded his stunt. Shortly after launch, screens at mission control showed the capsule, dangling from the massive balloon, as it rose gracefully above the New Mexico desert, with cheers erupting from organizers. Baumgartner could be seen on video, calmly checking instruments inside.
The dive was, in fact, more than just a stunt. NASA is eager to improve its blueprints for future spacesuits.
Baumgartner's team included Joe Kittinger, who first tried to break the sound barrier from 19.5 miles up in 1960, reaching speeds of 614 mph. With Kittinger inside mission control, the two men could be heard going over technical details during the ascension.
As Baumgartner ascended, so did the number of viewers watching on YouTube; company officials said the event broke a site record with more than 8 million simultaneous live streams at its peak.
After Baumgartner landed, his sponsor, Red Bull, posted a picture of him on his knees on the ground to Facebook, generating nearly 216,000 likes, 10,000 comments and more than 29,000 shares in less than 40 minutes.
Although he broke the sound barrier, the highest manned-balloon flight record and became the man to jump from the highest altitude, he failed to break Kittinger's 5 minute and 35 second longest free fall record. Baumgartner's was timed at 4 minutes and 20 seconds in free fall.
With Agency Inputs
First Published: Monday, October 15, 2012, 08:16