Los Angeles, USA: Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner celebrated his unprecedented feat on Monday after becoming the first man to break the sound barrier in a record-shattering, death-defying freefall jump from the edge of space.
|Felix Baumgartner jumps out of the capsule during the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos. Reuters/Red Bull Stratos Content Pool/HO
The 43-year-old leapt from a capsule more than 24 miles (39 kilometers) above the Earth Sunday, reaching a top speed of 833.9 miles (1,342 kilometers) per hour, or 1.24 times the speed of sound, according to organizers.
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.
|A combination image shows Felix Baumgartner’s jump during the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos. Reuters/Red Bull Stratos Content Pool/Handout
“I think 20 tons have fallen from my shoulders. I prepared for this for seven years,” he told German-language Servus TV in Austria in his first interview after the leap.
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. But I finally decided to jump. “It was the right decision,” added the Austrian, who broke three records: the highest freefall jump, the fastest freefall speed and the highest balloon flight by a human. He failed to make the longest freefall jump.
The former military parachutist rose in a purpose-built capsule beneath a giant helium balloon to a height of more than 128,000ft – almost four times the height of a cruising passenger airliner.
After a salute to the millions watching around the world, Baumgartner jumped from the capsule and plummeted toward earth, reaching a speed of 833mph – or Mach 1.24 – faster than the speed of sound, according to his spokesman.
“The exit was perfect, then I started tumbling — I thought I’d get it under control, but then it really started. I really picked up speed, it got very violent. I thought for a few seconds I’ll fall unconscious.”
“Thank goodness, I managed to stop — it was very difficult. It was much more difficult than many of us expected.” Baumgartner said he wasn’t even aware of breaking the sound barrier.
“I didn’t feel the sonic boom, I think it happens behind you,” he said. 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.”
“Austria is proud of your accomplishment,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
|Felix Baumgartner shares a laugh with Col Joe Kittinger, USAF retired. AP
Former Nasa astronaut Leroy Chiao, speaking on CNN television, said he believed elements of the pressure suit used by Baumgartner would be “incorporated into future pressure suits that are used in spacecraft.”
Temperatures of 90 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 68 Celsius) could also have had unpredictable consequences if his suit somehow failed.
After considering the options, the nerveless Baumgartner and his entourage decided to go ahead with the jump. Baumgartner’s 100-strong backup team includes retired US Air Force colonel Joe Kittinger, who held set the previous highest freefall jump record from 102,800 feet in 1960.
His jump coincided with the 65th anniversary of American pilot Chuck Yeager breaking the speed of sound. (AFP)