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Feeling supersonic: Skydiver Felix Baumgartner lands safely after jump from 24 miles high

The world held its breath as stuntman Felix Baumgartner ascended to the edge of space, then slowly emerged from his tiny capsule before plunging into the unknown

By Guy Adams

Published 15/10/2012

FILE - In this Aug. 16, 1960, file photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, Col. Joe Kittinger steps off a balloon-supported gondola at an altitude of 102,800 feet. In freefall for 4.5 minutes at speeds up to 614 mph and temperatures as low as -94 degrees Fahrenheit, he opened his parachute at 18,000 feet. On Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, if winds allow, in the desert surrounding Roswell, N.M., pilot Felix Baumgartner will attempt to break Kittinger's world record for the highest and fastest free fall. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 16, 1960, file photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, Col. Joe Kittinger steps off a balloon-supported gondola at an altitude of 102,800 feet. In freefall for 4.5 minutes at speeds up to 614 mph and temperatures as low as -94 degrees Fahrenheit, he opened his parachute at 18,000 feet. On Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, if winds allow, in the desert surrounding Roswell, N.M., pilot Felix Baumgartner will attempt to break Kittinger's world record for the highest and fastest free fall. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, File)
In this photo provided by Red Bull Stratos, pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria steps into his capsule before his mission was aborted due to high winds during the final manned flight of Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, N.M., Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Red Bull Stratos, Balazs Gardi)
FILE - In this Thursday, March 15, 2012 photo provided by Red Bull Stratos, Felix Baumgartner prepares to jump during the first manned test flight for Red Bull Stratos over Roswell, N.M. On Monday, Oct. 8, 2012 over New Mexico, Baumgartner will attempt to jump higher and faster in a free fall than anyone ever before and become the first skydiver to break the sound barrier. (AP Photo/Red Bull Stratos, Jay Nemeth)
In this photo provided by Red Bull, pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria is seen in a screen at mission control center in the capsule during the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, N.M. on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012. Baumgartner plans to jump from an altitude of 120,000 feet, an altitude chosen to enable him to achieve Mach 1 in free fall, which would deliver scientific data to the aerospace community about human survival from high altitudes.(AP Photo/Red Bull, Stefan Aufschnaiter)
This image provided by Red Bull Stratos shows pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria sitting in his capsule in preparation for the final manned flight of Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, N.M., Tuesday Oct. 9, 2012. Extreme athlete and skydiver Baumgartner canceled his planned death-defying 23-mile free fall on Tuesday because of high winds, the second time this week he was forced to postpone his quest to be the first supersonic skydiver. (AP Photo/Red Bull Stratos)
In this Nov. 8, 2011, photo provided by Red Bull Stratos, retired U.S Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger, left, and pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria greet each other during the Brooks chamber test for Red Bull Stratos, a mission to the edge of space to break the speed of sound in freefall, in San Antonio. On Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, if winds allow, in the desert surrounding Roswell, N.M., pilot Felix Baumgartner will attempt to break Kittinger's world record for the highest and fastest free fall. (AP Photo/Red Bull Stratos, Christian Pondella)
FILE - In this Nov. 16, 1959, file photo, provided by the U.S. Air Force, Capt. Joseph Kittinger Jr., aerospace laboratory test director, sits in the open balloon gondola after his first parachute test jump for Project Excelsior at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, N.M. The gondola carried him at an altitude of 76,400 feet for his record free fall jump of more than 12 miles. At left is David Willard, who designed and developed special equipment for the gondola. On Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, if winds allow, in the desert surrounding Roswell, N.M., pilot Felix Baumgartner will attempt to break Kittinger's world record for the highest and fastest free fall. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, File)
ROSWELL, NM - OCTOBER 14: (NO SALES/NO ARCHIVE) Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria and Technical Project Director Art Thompson (R) of the Unites States celebrate after successfully completing the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos on October 14, 2012 in Roswell, New Mexico. Austrian Felix Baumgartner broke the world record for the highest free fall in history after making a 23-mile ascent in capsule attached to a massive balloon. (Photo by Joerg Mitter/Red Bull Stratos via Getty Images)
ROSWELL, NM - OCTOBER 9: In this handout from Red Bull Stratos, Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria steps stps into the capsule before the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos October 9, 2012 in Roswell, New Mexico. on . Baumgartner was to attempt a record setting skydive from 23 miles above the Earth, but the attempt had to be aborted due to gusty winds. (Photo by Red Bull Stratos via Getty Images)
ROSWELL, NM - OCTOBER 9: In this handout from Red Bull Stratos, Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria steps out of his trailer before the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos October 9, 2012 in Roswell, New Mexico. on . Baumgartner was to attempt a record setting skydive from 23 miles above the Earth, but the attempt had to be aborted due to gusty winds. (Photo by Red Bull Stratos via Getty Images)
ROSWELL, NM - OCTOBER 9: In this handout from Red Bull Stratos, Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria leaves his capsule after his mission was aborted October 9, 2012 in Roswell, New Mexico. on . Baumgartner was to attempt a record setting skydive from 23 miles above the Earth, but the attempt had to be aborted due to gusty winds. (Photo by Red Bull Stratos via Getty Images)
ROSWELL, NM - OCTOBER 9: In this handout from Red Bull Stratos, Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria salutes on his way to the capsule before the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos October 9, 2012 in Roswell, New Mexico. on . Baumgartner was to attempt a record setting skydive from 23 miles above the Earth, but the attempt had to be aborted due to gusty winds. (Photo by Red Bull Stratos via Getty Images)
ROSWELL, NM - OCTOBER 9: In this handout from Red Bull Stratos, Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria sits in his capsule before the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos October 9, 2012 in Roswell, New Mexico. on . Baumgartner was to attempt a record setting skydive from 23 miles above the Earth, but the attempt had to be aborted due to gusty winds. (Photo by Red Bull Stratos via Getty Images)
ROSWELL, NM - OCTOBER 9: In this handout from Red Bull Stratos, Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria reacts after his mission was aborted after his mission was aborted October 9, 2012 in Roswell, New Mexico. on . Baumgartner was to attempt a record setting skydive from 23 miles above the Earth, but the attempt had to be aborted due to gusty winds. (Photo by Red Bull Stratos via Getty Images)
Felix Baumgartner, of Austria, gives a thumbs up to Mission Control staff, family, and friends after successfully jumping from a space capsule lifted by a helium balloon at a height of just over 128,000 feet above the Earth's surface, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Roswell, N.M. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Felix Baumgartner, right, of Austria, shares a laugh with Col. Joe Kittinger, USAF retired, after successfully jumping from a space capsule lifted by a helium balloon at a height of just over 128,000 feet above the Earth's surface, beating Kittinger's old record of 102,799 ft., Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Roswell, N.M. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Felix Baumgartner, middle, of Austria, walks with his girlfriend Nici Oetl, facing at left, after Baumgartner successfully jumped from a space capsule lifted by a helium balloon at a height of just over 128,000 feet above the Earth's surface, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Roswell, N.M. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Felix Baumgartner, third from left, of Austria, gets a hug from Mission Control technical project director Art Thompson, as television crews and pool photographers converge on the scene, after Baumgartner successfully jumped from a space capsule lifted by a helium balloon at a height of just over 128,000 feet above the Earth's surface, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Roswell, N.M.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Felix Baumgartner, of Austria, pauses before answering a question during an impromptu interview after successfully jumping from a space capsule lifted by a helium balloon at a height of just over 128,000 feet above the Earth's surface, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Roswell, N.M.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
In this photo provided by Red Bull Stratos, pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria and Technical Project Director Art Thompson, celebrate after successfully completing the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, N.M., Sunday, October 14, 2012. Baumgartner came down safely in the eastern New Mexico desert minutes about nine minutes after jumping from his capsule 128,097 feet, or roughly 24 miles, above Earth. (AP Photo/Red Bull Stratos, Joerg Mitter)
This photo provided by Red Bull shows the balloon lifts up during the helium balloon carrying Felix Baumgartner, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Roswell, N.M. Baumgartner plans to jump from an altitude of 120,000 feet, an altitude chosen to enable him to achieve Mach 1 in free fall, which would deliver scientific data to the aerospace community about human survival from high altitudes.(AP Photo/Red Bull Stratos, Predrag Vuckovic, HO) MANDATORY CREDIT
In this photo provided by Red Bull Stratos, Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria celebrates after successfully completing the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, N.M., Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012. Baumgartner came down safely in the eastern New Mexico desert minutes about nine minutes after jumping from his capsule 128,097 feet, or roughly 24 miles, above Earth. (AP Photo/Red Bull Stratos, Balazs Gardi)
In this photo provided by Red Bull, pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria lands in the desert after his successful jump on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012 in Roswell, N.M. Baumgartner came down safely in the eastern New Mexico desert minutes about nine minutes after jumping from his capsule 128,097 feet, or roughly 24 miles, above Earth (AP Photo/Red Bull, Predrag Vuckovic)
In this photo provided by Red Bull, pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria celebrates after his successful jump on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012 in Roswell, N.M. Baumgartner came down safely in the eastern New Mexico desert minutes about nine minutes after jumping from his capsule 128,097 feet, or roughly 24 miles, above Earth (AP Photo/Red Bull, Predrag Vuckovic)
In this photo provided by Red Bull, pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria lands in the desert after his successful jump on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012 in Roswell, N.M. Baumgartner came down safely in the eastern New Mexico desert minutes about nine minutes after jumping from his capsule 128,097 feet, or roughly 24 miles, above Earth (AP Photo/Red Bull, Predrag Vuckovic)
In this photo provided by Red Bull, Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria jumps out from the capsule during the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, N.M., Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012. Baumgartner came down safely in the eastern New Mexico desert minutes about nine minutes after jumping from his capsule 128,097 feet, or roughly 24 miles, above Earth. (AP Photo/Red Bull, Stefan Aufschnaiter)
Felix Baumgartner, of Austria, pumps his fist to the crowd after successfully jumping from a space capsule lifted by a helium balloon at a height of just over 128,000 feet above the Earth's surface, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Roswell, N.M. Baumgartner came down safely in the eastern New Mexico desert minutes about nine minutes after jumping from his capsule 128,097 feet, or roughly 24 miles, above Earth (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
In this photo provided by Red Bull, crew members at the mission control watch the jump of pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria in Roswell, N.M. on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012. Baumgartner came down safely in the eastern New Mexico desert minutes about nine minutes after jumping from his capsule 128,097 feet, or roughly 24 miles, above Earth (AP Photo/Red Bull Joerg Mitter)
The capsule and attached helium balloon carrying Felix Baumgartner lifts off as he attempts to break the speed of sound with his own body by jumping from a space capsule lifted by a helium balloon, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Roswell, N.M. Baumgartner plans to jump from an altitude of 120,000 feet, an altitude chosen to enable him to achieve Mach 1 in free fall, which would deliver scientific data to the aerospace community about human survival from high altitudes.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
FILE - This photo provided by Red Bull Stratos shows pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria reacting after his mission was aborted in Roswell, N.M., on Oct. 9, 2012. on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, mission control officials declared a "weather hold" until 8:15 a.m. MDT, and said that inflation of the balloon wouldn't begin until after that hold is lifted. Earlier, the launch team said they were aiming for the three-hour ascent to begin Sunday at 8 a.m. The jump was postponed twice last week because of high winds. (AP Photo/Red Bull Stratos, Joerg Mitter)
A helicopter hovers above the helium balloon, attached to the capsule carrying Felix Baumgartner, before he attempts to break the speed of sound with his own body by jumping from the space capsule, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Roswell, N.M. Baumgartner plans to jump from an altitude of 120,000 feet, an altitude chosen to enable him to achieve Mach 1 in free fall, which would deliver scientific data to the aerospace community about human survival from high altitudes. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
The capsule and attached helium balloon carrying Felix Baumgartner begins to lift off as he attempts to break the speed of sound with his own body by jumping from a space capsule lifted by a helium balloon, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Roswell, N.M. Baumgartner plans to jump from an altitude of 120,000 feet, an altitude chosen to enable him to achieve Mach 1 in free fall, which would deliver scientific data to the aerospace community about human survival from high altitudes.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
The capsule and attached helium balloon carrying Felix Baumgartner just leaves the ground as it lifts off as he attempts to break the speed of sound with his own body by jumping from a space capsule lifted by a helium balloon, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Roswell, N.M. Baumgartner plans to jump from an altitude of 120,000 feet, an altitude chosen to enable him to achieve Mach 1 in free fall, which would deliver scientific data to the aerospace community about human survival from high altitudes.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
The capsule, bottom left, and attached helium balloon carrying Felix Baumgartner lifts off as he attempts to break the speed of sound with his own body by jumping from a space capsule lifted by a helium balloon, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Roswell, N.M. Baumgartner plans to jump from an altitude of 120,000 feet, an altitude chosen to enable him to achieve Mach 1 in free fall, which would deliver scientific data to the aerospace community about human survival from high altitudes.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
The capsule and attached helium balloon carrying Felix Baumgartner lifts off as he attempts to break the speed of sound with his own body by jumping from a space capsule lifted by a helium balloon, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, in Roswell, N.M. Baumgartner plans to jump from an altitude of 120,000 feet, an altitude chosen to enable him to achieve Mach 1 in free fall, which would deliver scientific data to the aerospace community about human survival from high altitudes.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
In this July 25, 2012 photo provided by Red Bull Stratos, a balloon lifts up during the second manned test flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, N.M. It's described as a '40-acre dry cleaner bag,' that, when first filled, will stretch 55 stories high. On Monday, this special ultra-thin helium balloon is scheduled to liftoff from Roswell, N.M., to carry "Fearless Felix" Baumgartner 23 miles into the stratosphere for what he hopes will be a history-making, sound barrier-breaking skydive. (AP Photo/Red Bull Stratos)
Felix Baumgartner intends to plummet 125,000ft from the edge of space back to earth
Felix Baumgartner is aiming to become the first person to break the speed of sound with the human body (AP)

"The whole world is watching,” Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner declared, in a tone that bordered on nonchalance. “I wish that you could see what I see!” Then, having been assured by Mission Control that some sort of guardian angel would look after him, he flashed a “thumbs up” sign and threw himself into the stratosphere.

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It was a giant leap, all right. From a height of roughly 24 miles, Baumgartner spent four minutes and 22 seconds in freefall, hitting a top speed of 833.9mph and therefore achieving his signature objective of becoming the first skydiver to break the speed of sound.



He also broke long-standing records for the highest skydive in history, and the highest balloon flight on record. But the biggest thrill was simply surviving. “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 afterwards. “The only thing you want is to come back alive."



In keeping with tradition, Baumgartner’s giant leap ended with some small steps. Almost 10 minutes after entering into freefall, he quite literally hit the ground running, beneath a red-and-white parachute adorned with the logo of Red Bull, the fizzy drink company which bankrolled the stunt. He jogged for a few yards before coming efficiently to a halt in an empty field.



Live footage, from long-lens television cameras aboard a circling helicopter, showed Baumgartner raise his arms in a victory salute. Then he removed his helmet, revealing a smile so wide that you could see the whites of his teeth. “Sometimes you have to get up really high to know how small you are,” he reflected.



Three hours earlier, the world had begun watched as “Fearless Felix”, to use his officially sanctioned nickname, was strapped into a tiny 8ft by 11ft fibreglass capsule. It dangled beneath a huge helium balloon made from wafer-thin plastic which when fully extended was the height of a 55-storey building.



A total of 30 cameras had been rigged up to record proceedings, from a wide range of vantage points, and the result was rolling television gold: undeniably spectacular, but with a sense of danger that lent genuine drama to proceedings.



Seven million watched on YouTube, while tens of millions more tuned in via regular television, helped by the fact that Red Bull’s PR department scheduled the jump to coincide with European evening primetime. More than half the globally trending topics on Twitter yesterday involved Baumgartner. After he landed, an official picture posted to Facebook generated nearly 216,000 likes, 10,000 comments and more than 29,000 shares in less than 40 minutes.



Despite being billed as live, the leap was in fact shown on a 20-second time delay in case of a tragic accident. But organisers did a good job of keeping the nerves of viewers jangling.

As Baumgartner’s balloon took off, the cameras cut to his mother, Ava, who was watching with friends and family. She was crying, nervously.



During the two hours that her 43-year-old son continued on his long upward journey, we learned of many potential ways in which he could meet with a sticky end, for example by accidentally tearing his pressurised suit upon leaving the capsule, which would have apparently cut off his oxygen supply and caused “lethal bubbles” would quickly form in his bodily fluids.



The sense of impending doom rose roughly two thirds of the way through the ascent, when it emerged that a “minor issue” had developed with Baumgartner’s heated face-mask, which was steaming up. Organisers attempted to “trouble-shoot” it, and for a time considered calling the jump off. But eventually they decided to throw caution to the wind.



That decision didn’t always look questionable. A short while into the jump he appeared to be tumbling end over end, and those watching would have been forgiven for fearing the worst. Three minutes in, after righting that wobble, Baumgartner declared over the radio: “My face mask is fogging up! Repeat. My facemask is fogging up!”



He then decided to open the parachute slightly earlier than planned, a precautionary move which helped him return safe and sound, but may also have prevented him from breaking the world record for “longest freefall.”



But it all added to the sense of drama. And despite the wrinkle, the world’s most famous daredevil has few regrets. “I think 20 tons have fallen from my shoulders,” was how he described his state of mind in his first post-landing interview.



“I prepared for this for seven years,” he added, according to a translation from the original German. “Even on a day like this when you start so well, there can be a little glitch, and you think you’ll have to abort... What if you’ve prepared everything and it fails on a visor problem? But in the end, I finally decided to jump. And it was the right decision.”



The jump by numbers



7.1 million people watched him on YouTube



729 Speed (mph) reached during his jump



128,000: Height in feet of Baumgartner's jump – 24 miles above the Eart

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