National and World News Writer
ROSWELL, N.M. – Imagine looking down and seeing the Earth just below your feet. That’s exactly what Felix Baumgartner did on Sunday right before falling back to Earth making him the world’s first supersonic skydiver. He was 24 miles above Earth and millions of people on the internet waited for the moment he would step off the capsule and plunge toward the New Mexico desert. He shattered the sound barrier and then landed safely nine minutes of falling back to his home planet.
“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,” Baumgartner said after Sunday’s jump. “The only thing you want is to come back alive.”
Baumgartner, a 43-year-old Austrian, hit Mach 1.24 or 833.9 mph according to preliminary data and has now become the first person to go faster than the speed of sound without traveling in a jet or spacecraft. The capsule he jumped from reached an altitude of 128,000 feet above Earth, carried by a 55-story ultra-thin helium balloon, according to Juan Carlos Llorca and Oskar Garcia from the Associated Press.
Although the event happened without a network broadcast in the United States, organizers said more than 40 television stations in 50 countries (including cable’s Discovery Channel in the U.S.) carried the live feed. Instead, millions gathered online, causing more than 8 million immediate views to the YouTube live stream, YouTube officials said.
Landing on his feet in the desert, the man known as “Fearless Felix” lifted his arms in victory to signal to friends and spectators (who closely followed at a command center) that he was okay. Among them was his mother, Eva Baumgartner, who started to cry when he touched down.
About half of Baumgartner’s nine-minute descent was a free fall of 119,846 feet, according to Brian Utley, a jump observer from the FAI, an international group that works to determine and maintain the reliability of aviation records.
During the first part of Baumgartner’s free fall, he spun uncontrollably. He said he felt pressure building in his head, but did not feel as though he was close to passing out. “When I was spinning first 10, 20 seconds, I never thought I was going to lose my life, but I was disappointed because I’m going to lose my record. I put seven years of my life into this,” he said.
Baumgartner added: “In that situation, when you spin around, it’s like hell and you don’t know if you can get out of that spin or not. Of course, it was terrifying. I was fighting all the way down because I knew that there must be a moment where I can handle it.”
The dive was more than just a stunt for NASA, who was an onlooker in this case with no involvement and is eager to improve its spacecraft and spacesuits for emergency escape.
Baumgartner’s team included Joe Kittinger, who first tried to break the sound barrier from 19.5 miles up in 1960, reaching speeds of 614 mph. “Our guardian angel will take care of you,” Kittinger radioed to Baumgartner around the 100,000-foot mark.
After Baumgartner landed, his sponsor, Red Bull, posted a picture to Facebook of him kneeling on the ground. It generated nearly 216,000 likes, 10,000 comments and more than 29,000 shares in less than 40 minutes. On Twitter, half the worldwide trending topics had something to do with the jump, generating more buzz than seven NFL football games.
This attempt is the end of a long road for Baumgartner, a record-setting high-altitude jumper. He already made two jumps in the area to prepare for this truly amazing feat. He did one jump from 15 miles high and another from 18 miles high. He has said, however, that this was his final dive. “Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are,” an energetic Baumgartner told reporters outside mission control after the jump.
Baumgartner has said he plans to settle down with his girlfriend and fly helicopters on mountain rescue and firefighting missions in the U.S. and Austria.
Before that, though, he said, “I’ll go back to LA to chill out for a few days.”