Daredevil jumps 25 miles, lands safely on his feet

Supersonic skydiver possibly breached the sound barrier after jumping from edge of space.

Daredevil jumps 25 miles, lands safely on his feet

SWELL (NEW MEXICO) : Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner landed safely on his feet in New Mexico after jumping from a balloon 37 km above Earth in a death-defying free fall that could make him the world’s first supersonic skydiver.

Baumgartner climbed into the stratosphere in a pressurized capsule carried by a helium balloon on Tuesday and then jumped into a near vacuum at about 128,000 feet, or more than 24 miles, high.

The ascent, which was being broadcast on the Web, took at least two hours.

The total jump took about 10 minutes. It was the highest jump in history and breached the sound barrier.

During the ascent, Baumgartner went through a checklist with help from Joe Kittinger, 84, a retired Air Force colonel who in 1960 jumped from 102,800 feet, setting a record that remained intact more than half a century later – and which Baumgartner has broken.

“Be sure to stay hydrated, Felix,” Kittinger said as the capsule rose above 22,000 feet. “You’re doing great on that altitude.”

Daredevil jumps 25 miles, lands safely on his feet

“We love you Felix!” screamed the crowd as he plunged through the stratosphere.

“My visor is fogging up,” he gasped over the radio and fell through the air moments before his parachute opened to the applause of the crowd on the ground, including his teary-eyed mother, father and girlfriend, who were watching on monitors miles below.

Cheers broke out as the craft took flight. The enormous balloon rose, then pulled into the air a capsule containing Felix. His mother wept as she watched the launch, which had been scrapped several times during the previous week by high winds.

There is so little air in the upper reaches of the atmosphere that after about 30 seconds of free fall, Baumgartner would have moved faster than the speed of sound, which is roughly 690 mph (1,110 kph) at that altitude.

Among the risks he faced was the chance that his supersonic body would trigger shock waves that could collide with the force of an explosion. But Baumgartner’s medical team did not believe the situation was very likely because the air in the stratosphere is too thin to carry the waves.

Daredevil jumps 25 miles, lands safely on his feet

Baumgartner stayed supersonic for about a minute before hitting a thicker part of the atmosphere, slowing his fall.

No human has broken the sound barrier during free fall, at least not intentionally; on Jan. 25, 1966, Bill Weaver, a U.S. test pilot aboard an SR-71 Blackbird aircraft, was ejected from his damaged plane at Mach 3.18 – more than three times faster than the speed of sound – and survived.

“It goes to show there are still challenges to overcome and you should never lose sight of trying to achieve them,” Baumgartner said in an interview posted on the project’s website.

When Baumgartner jumped from the capsule beneath the balloon, the position of his body was crucial since there is no air in which he can reposition himself. If he had fallen in a way that put him into a rapid spin, Baumgartner would have passed out and damaged his eyes, brain and cardiovascular system.

His safety gear included a custom spacesuit to protect him from the low pressure and the extreme cold.

Temperatures were as low as about minus-70 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 57 degrees Celsius). The near vacuum also put him at risk of ebullism, a potentially lethal condition in which fluids in the body turn to gas – literally blood boiling. Severe lung damage could occur within minutes.

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