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Felix Baumgartner completes supersonic jump, sets record

October 14, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner landed safely on Earth after a 24-mile jump from the edge of space on Sunday, becoming the first skydiver to break the sound barrier.

The former Austrian paratrooper took off Sunday morning in a pressurized capsule carried by a 55-story ultra-thin helium balloon that took nearly three hours to climb into the stratosphere.

Baumgartner jumped into a near vacuum with no oxygen during the fastest, farthest fall from the highest-ever manned balloon.

He landed safely in the eastern New Mexico desert about nine minutes after jumping from his capsule 128,097 feet, or roughly 24 miles, above Earth. He lifted his arms in victory, sending off loud cheers from jubilant onlookers and friends.

After his safe landing, "Fearless Felix" broke a 52-year-old altitude record by Joe Kittinger, who jumped from 19.5 miles and reached a speed of 614 mph, just under the sound barrier.

At an afternoon news conference, officials confirmed that Baumgartner has become the first skydiver to break the speed of sound. Brian Utley of the International Federation of Sports Aviation said Baumgartner reached a maximum speed of 833.9 mph during his jump over the New Mexico desert. That amounts to Mach 1.24, which is faster than the speed of sound.

The jump was postponed on Monday and Tuesday because of unexpected winds.

Sunday's jump will hopefully be the end of a five-year road for Baumgartner, a record-setting high-altitude jumper. He already made two preparation jumps in the area, one in March from 15 miles high and one in July from 18 miles high. It will also be the end of his extreme altitude jumping career; he has promised this will be his final jump.

Baumgartner wore a high-tech suit during his event. His medical director has told reporters that the pressurized spacesuit will protect Baumgartner from the shock waves of breaking the sound barrier. Since the jump was a success, NASA could certify a new generation of spacesuits for protecting astronauts and provide an escape option from spacecraft at 120,000 feet.

Any contact with the capsule on his exit could have torn the pressurized suit, exposing him to a lack of oxygen and temperatures as low as 70 degrees below zero.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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