DAREDEVIL skydiver Felix Baumgartner leapt into the record books last night after a jump of 128,000ft above New Mexico, breaking the sound barrier and reaching the fastest ever freefall speed – 706mph.
The Austrian also set records for the highest skydive, the fastest freefall and the highest manned balloon flight. He took just ten minutes to make the 24-mile journey to Earth.
His parachute was activated around 5,000ft above the ground. Medical crews who had been on stand-by picked him up and took him to a mission control centre set up at Roswell Airport.
He raised his hands in a victory salute and sank to his knees after making the landing on his feet. His mother, Ava, could be seen weeping tears of joy in the control room.
Mr Baumgartner’s leap from “the edge of space” was watched by more than 7.5 million people on the YouTube site alone.
An enormous balloon – holding about 850,000 cubic metres of helium gas – had carried him up into the air above Roswell, New Mexico, at about 4:30pm GMT yesterday.
After final preparations, he made the jump about three and a half hours later.
He was carried aloft in a specially-designed 11ft by 8ft fibreglass and acrylic capsule.
Mr Baumgartner, 43, a former military parachutist, made his jump from the capsule hanging from a balloon made of such delicate plastic that it was just a tenth of the thickness of an average sandwich bag.
The skydiver wore a full-pressure suit that was heavily insulated to protect him against the extreme high-altitude conditions, with dangerously low air pressure and cold.
There was concern as Mr Baumgartner went through last minute checks in the capsule, and found that the heater for his visor was not working. It meant the visor fogged up as he exhaled.
No-one has ever attempted to go so high in a balloon – nor attempted to make such a skydive. The previous skydive record was set 52 years ago by US air force colonel Joe Kittinger, who jumped from an altitude of 102,000ft.
From mission control, Mr Kittinger had told Mr Baumgartner: “We are going to get your goal and your dream accomplished, Felix.”
Mr Kittinger had been in constant contact with the Austrian throughout his multiple record-breaking attempt.
And before he leaped out, he told the skydiver: “Our guardian angel will take care of you.”
No-one had previously been able to reach supersonic speeds without the protection of an aircraft.
During a test jump earlier this year, from an altitude of 97,145ft, Mr Baumgartner reached 537mph, the speed of a commercial jetliner.
An attempt to break the sound barrier last week had to be cancelled because of high winds. The balloon is so fragile it can only take flight if winds are below two miles per hour.
Scientists were planning to monitor the affects of the descent with the hope of developing life-saving technology that could eventually be used by high-altitude pilots, astronauts and even “space tourists.”