The Austrian daredevil, Felix Baumgartner rose to the edge of space on Sunday — 128,100 feet, or 24 miles, above the Earth, before plunging faster than the speed of sound.
Minutes later, he landed in southeastern New Mexico and, dropping to his knees, pumped his fists to the sky. He had done what no one has ever done. He had jumped from space, he had broken the speed of sound.
“He made it — tears of joy from Mission Control,” his support team said.
Dubbed “Fearless Felix,” the helicopter pilot and former soldier had parachuted from such landmarks as the Petronas Towers in Malaysia and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. And he’d been preparing for his latest feat for five years — physically, mentally and logistically.
By most accounts, all the hard work paid off. According to preliminary findings cited by Brian Utley, an official observer monitoring the mission, the 43-year-old Baumgartner flew higher than anyone ever in a helium balloon and broke the record for the highest jump.
Despite the death-defying tasks he has gone through over the years, Baumgartner seemed taken aback when Utley detailed how fast he had fallen at one point — 833.9 mph(373m/s, 1342.8kmph), or Mach 1.24, smashing his goal to break the sound barrier.
“I was fighting all the way down to regain control because I wanted to break the speed of sound,” said Baumgartner, who did it all with nothing but a space suit, helmet and parachute. “And then I hit it.”
After a weather delay of several hours, he set off at 9:30 a.m. MT (11:30 a.m. ET, 4:30 p.m. GMT) Sunday from Roswell, New Mexico, in breezy, clear conditions, strapped into a pressurized capsule that hung from a giant helium balloon. Over the next two hours, he rose high into the stratosphere.
Then he ran through a 40-step checklist, opened the hatch, disconnected from the capsule, and climbed out onto a step the size of a skateboard.
“Guardian angels will take care of you,” said Mission Control just before he jumped.
“The whole world is watching now,” Baumgartner responded.
After giving a salute, he jumped.
Sunday’s successful jump breaks the record set in 1960 by Col. Joe Kittinger, who fell from 102,800 feet as part of a U.S. Air Force mission. More than 50 years later, Kittinger was a consultant on Baumgartner’s effort, even serving as the lone person from Mission Control talking to the Austrian throughout his attempt.