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Felix Baumgartner breaks the sound barrier during skydive from a record 24 miles up

By: Pete Thomas,

Felix Baumgartner stepped out of the space capsule an astonishing 128,100 feet, or 24.26 miles above earth, about three times the cruising altitude of jetliners. The skydiver plummeted for 4:20 seconds, but it seemed an eternity, because his faceplate was fogging up on the way down as he fell through harsh atmospheric conditions at a dizzying speed. 

Baumgartner was also thrown into a dangerous tumble shortly after exiting. "It felt like a flat spin," said Baumgartner. "I had a lot of pressure in my head, but I felt I could regain control so we could go after the sound barrier." 

According to Brian Utley, who's responsible for FIA certification, roughly one minute into his jump Baumgartner reached a top speed of 833.9 mph, a new record for a skydiver. That also means he successfully broke the sound barrier, reaching Mach 1.24. 

He also broke the record for the highest manned balloon flight, unofficially reaching a height just shy of 25 miles. He did so in a balloon that's also the largest ever manned. 

Baumgartner's long-anticipated leap from the edge of space was the Austrian daredevil's attempt at breaking all those records, most notably the highest successful jump and becoming the only skydiver to break the sound barrier. 

Baumgartner is the first skydiver to ever break through the sound barrier, and remarkably, it comes 65 years to the day after Chuck Yeager, flying in his X-1A, first broke through the harrowing milestone. 

As Baumgartner opened the hatch of his capsule and stepped out onto the platform, he said before jumping, "I wish the whole world could see what I see." 

After landing, he said the only thing he was thinking about once on the platform was getting back to earth alive. "At that height you become so humble, you don't think about breaking records anymore. You just want to come back."

The Red Bull Stratos project had been seven years in the making. Baumgartner, 43, made the leap while wearing a pressurized space suit. He jumped from a pressurized capsule that was hoisted toward the heavens above Roswell, New Mexico, by a towering white stratospheric balloon.

During the marathon free-fall, Baumgartner's unofficial speed of 706 mph came while passing through sub-freezing air zones. While falling, he was communicating with mission control that his visor was fogging up, which is the likely reason behind his early parachute deployment, at 4:20. 

The epic jump, the team has maintained, represents more than a mere stunt. Extensive research that went into this mission is expected to help scientists design safer and more effective space suits for future astronauts. 

Family and friends were on hand, with his mother, Eva, describing the feat as Baumgartner's "biggest dream coming true."

Baumgartner, whose mission was planned cautiously and meticulously by a team of scientists, shattered a 52-year-old skydiving altitude record of 102,800 feet. That belonged to Joseph Kittinger, a former U.S. Air Force colonel, who joined the Red Bull Stratos project as chief of flight operations and safety.

Last March the skydiver and famous BASE jumper made a preparation jump from 71,580 feet (more than 13 miles) above Roswell. During that leap he set a world free-fall speed record of 364.4 mph. The free-fall spanned 3 minutes, 43 seconds, and included a plunge through temperatures as cold as minus-75 degrees. 

Baumgartner became so cold that he could hardly move his hands, and the free-fall was so long that he had to fight the urge to deploy the parachute too early.

Remarkably, two others had survived jumps from similar altitudes--both in the 1960s. They were Russia's Eugene Andreev and American Joseph Kittinger. 

In July Baumgartner made his final test jump, from 97,146 feet, also in Roswell.

The balloon was launched from the back of a pickup truck. For 52 years Kittinger, who also wore a pressurized suit, held the distinction of taking what had been described as "the highest step in the world."

It was during an era in which nobody knew whether a human could survive a jump from the edge of space. A handful of people died while trying to beat Kittinger's record. 

Before Sunday's jump, Baumgartner said of the mental struggles: "You get claustrophobic fast in the pressurized suit. You start to let your mind go, and you think of people who lost their lives trying to do what Joe Kittinger did. You have to get your mind in a different place. Count backwards ... whatever you have to do." 

Kittinger added: "Of course it's not easy. It takes a special combination [of talent]. The best partner you can have is Felix Baumgartner." 

On Sunday, Kittinger had a special message for all the doubters at the post-jump press conference. "I'd like to give a special one finger salute to all those who said he'd come apart going supersonic." 

When Felix Baumgartner was asked what's next now that he's achieved this long awaited dream, he replied, "Well, in forty years I'd like to be in the seat Joe Kittinger is in today, helping somebody try to break my record."

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