Austrian extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner landed safely on Earth after a 38.6-kilometre jump from high the stratosphere in a dramatic, daring feat that may also have marked the world’s first supersonic skydive.
Baumgartner landed in the eastern New Mexico desert minutes after jumping from his capsule 38.6 kilometres, above Earth. He lifted his arms in victory shortly after landing, sending off loud cheers from onlookers and friends inside the mission’s control centre in Roswell, New Mexico.
Thirty seconds into that descent he became the first human to break the sound barrier outside of an aircraft.
Baumgartner, known as “Fearless Felix,” had taken off in a pressurised capsule carried by a 55-storey ultra-thin helium balloon.
During the ensuing jump from more than three times the height of the average cruising altitude for jetliners, Baumgartner was expected to hit a speed of 690 mph.
As he exited his capsule from high above Earth, he flashed thumbs-up sign, aware that his 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 pressurised suit, a rip that could expose him to a lack of oxygen and temperatures as low as minus 57 degrees Celsius. That could have caused potentially lethal bubbles to form in his bodily fluids.
Coincidentally, Baumgartner’s attempted feat also marked the 65th anniversary of U.S. test pilot Chuck Yeager successful attempt to become the first man to officially break the sound barrier aboard an airplane.
At Baumgartner’s insistence, some 30 cameras recorded the event on Sunday. Shortly after launch, screens at mission control showed the capsule as it rose above 10,000 feet, high above the New Mexico desert as cheers erupted from organisers. Baumgartner also could be seen on video checking instruments inside the capsule.
Baumgartner’s team included Joe Kittinger, who first attempted to break the sound barrier from 31.4 kilometres up in 1960.
“You are right on the button, keep it right there,” Kittinger told Baumgartner.
An hour into the flight, Baumgartner had ascended more than 63,000 feet and had gone through a trial run of the jump sequence that will send him plummeting toward Earth. Ballast was dropped to speed up the ascent. Kittinger told him, “Everything is in the green. Doing great.”
Baumgartner broke the 52-year-old altitude record set by Kittinger, who reached a speed of 988 kph, just under the sound barrier.
This attempt marked the end of a five-year road for Baumgartner, a record-setting high-altitude jumper. He already had made two preparation jumps in the area, one in March from 24 kilometres high and one in July from 29 kilometres high. It will also be the end of his extreme altitude jumping career; he has promised this will be his final jump.