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Daredevil breaks sound barrier

Date
Leap of faith ... Felix Baumgartner.

Leap of faith ... Felix Baumgartner. Photo: Reuters

  • Leapt from 39,044 metres
  • Top speed of 1342km/h
  • Freefall for four minutes and 20 seconds
  • Temperatures of minus 68 degrees

Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner became the first man to break the sound barrier in a record-shattering, death-defying freefall jump on Sunday from the edge of space.

The skydiver's blood could have boiled if there were the slightest tear or crack in his pressurized spacesuit-like outfit, due to instant depressurization at the extreme altitude. 

The 43-year-old leapt from a capsule more than 39 kilometres above the Earth, reaching a top speed of 833.9 miles per hour (1342km/h), or 1.24 times the speed of sound, according to organisers.

Back to Earth ... Felix Baumgartner.

Back to Earth ... Felix Baumgartner. Photo: AFP

The veteran skydiver was in freefall for four minutes and 20 seconds before opening his red and white parachute and floating down to the desert in the US state of New Mexico, said Red Bull Stratos mission record keeper Brian Utley.

Mission control erupted in cheers as Baumgartner sprung from the capsule hoisted aloft by a giant helium-filled balloon to an altitude of 128,097 feet (39,044 metres), even higher than expected.

"It was way harder than I expected. I think 20 tonnes have fallen from my shoulders. I prepared for this for seven years," he told German-language ServusTV in Austria in his first interview after the leap.

On top of the world ... Felix Baumgartner celebrates after leaping from the edge of space.

On top of the world ... Felix Baumgartner celebrates after leaping from the edge of space. Photo: AP and Jay Nemeth/Red Bull Content Pool

Referring to a helmet problem that nearly forced him to abort at the last minute, Baumgartner said: "Even on a day like this when you start so well, then there's 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 I finally decided to jump. And it was the right decision."

Shortly before jumping, in footage beamed live around the world - on a crackly radio link recalling Neil Armstrong's first words on the Moon - he had said: "Sometimes you have [to go] up really high to [understand] how small you are."

Job done ... Felix Baumgartner celebrates afterlanding in the desert.

Job done ... Felix Baumgartner celebrates afterlanding in the desert. Photo: AFP

The Austrian took more than two hours to get up to the jump altitude. Baumgartner had already broken one record before he even leapt: the previous highest altitude for a manned balloon flight was 113,740 feet, set in 1961.

He had been due to jump from 120,000 feet, but the balloon went higher than expected.

One of the first people to congratulate him was Austrian President Heinz Fischer, who hailed the "great success".

Daredevil ... Felix Baumgartner of Austria is watched on a screen from the mission control centre.

Daredevil ... Felix Baumgartner of Austria is watched on a screen from the mission control centre. Photo: Reuters

"Austria is proud of your accomplishment," he wrote on his Facebook page.

The Red Bull Stratos mission was the second attempt for the skydiver after an initial bid on Tuesday was aborted at the last minute due to winds.

The biggest risk Baumgartner faced was spinning out of control, which could have exerted excessive G-force and made him lose consciousness. A controlled dive from the capsule was essential, putting him in a head-down position to increase speed.

Near-perfect jump ... Felix Baumgartner is seen in the capsule before his leap.

Near-perfect jump ... Felix Baumgartner is seen in the capsule before his leap. Photo: Reuters

As things transpired millions of transfixed viewers around the world looked on as the Austrian started tumbling chaotically for what seemed like an eternity before finally achieving the right position.

More gruesomely, the skydiver's blood could have boiled if there was the slightest tear or crack in his pressurised spacesuit-like outfit, due to instant depressurisation at the extreme altitude.

Temperatures of minus 68 degrees could also have had unpredictable consequences if his suit somehow failed.

Edge of space leap ... the helium balloon lifts the capsule.

Edge of space leap ... the helium balloon lifts the capsule. Photo: AFP/www.redbullcontentpool.com

The helmet problem as Baumgartner ascended added to the sense of alarm: the heater failed on his faceplate, meaning it became fogged up when he exhaled.

After considering the options, the nerveless Baumgartner and his entourage decided to go ahead with the jump.

Baumgartner's 100-strong back-up team included retired US Air Force colonel Joe Kittinger, who had held one of the records the Austrian was trying to break: the highest freefall jump, which Kittinger made from 102,800 feet in 1960.

"Let the guardian angel take care of you," Kittinger told Baumgartner shortly before he leapt into the void.

Speaking after the feat, Kittinger declared: "I'd like to give a special one-finger salute to all the folks who said he was gonna fall apart when he went supersonic."

Baumgartner holds several previous records, notably with spectacular BASE jumps from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

He recalled the emotions sweeping through his body when he stepped out of the capsule over the New Mexico desert.

"When you're standing there on top of the world you become so humble ... The only thing is you want to come back alive," he told reporters in Roswell, where the launch mission was based.

His launch coincided with the 65th anniversary of American pilot Chuck Yeager breaking the speed of sound.

AFP

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