Posted on 16-10-2012
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Chloe Davies

Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner has described the first 30 seconds of his record-breaking skydive, during which he broke the sound barrier in free-fall, as ”hell”, saying it was absolutely terrifying.

With millions watching him on the Internet, Baumgartner stood alone at the edge of space on Sunday, poised in the open doorway of a capsule suspended from a helium balloon 39km above Earth.

A second later, he stepped off the capsule and barrelled towards the New Mexico desert.

Millions watched as he shattered the sound barrier and then landed safely about nine minutes later, becoming the world’s first supersonic skydiver.

“When I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble; you do not think about breaking records any more, you do not think about gaining scientific data,” Baumgartner said.

“The only thing you want is to come back alive.”

The tightly orchestrated jump was a cross between Neil Armstrong’s moon landing and Evel Knievel’s famed motorcycle jumps – part scientific wonder, part daredevil show.

It proved, once again, the power of the internet in a world in which news travels as fast as Twitter.

More than 130 digital outlets carried the live feed, organisers said.

It was a last hurrah for what some have billed as a dying Space Age. Nasa’s shuttle programme has ended and the ways humans explore space is dramatically changing.

As the jump unfolded, the space shuttle Endeavour was creeping towards a Los Angeles museum, where it will become nothing more than an exhibit.

Baumgartner, 43, hit Mach 1.24, or 1342km/h, according to preliminary data, and became the first person to reach supersonic speed without travelling in a jet or a spacecraft.

Landing on his feet in the desert, the man known as “Fearless Felix” lifted his arms in victory to the cheers of jubilant friends and spectators. Among them was his mother, Eva Baumgartner, who was overcome with emotion, crying.

“Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are,” an exuberant Baumgartner said outside mission control after the jump.

About half of Baumgartner’s nine-minute descent of more than 36km was in free-fall, according to Brian Utley, a jump observer from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, which ensures the integrity of aviation records.

“When I was spinning during the first 10 to 20 seconds, I never thought I was going to lose my life but I was disappointed because I thought I’m going to lose my record. I put seven years of my life into this,” Baumgartner said.

“In that situation, when you spin around it’s like hell and you don’t know if you can get out of the spin. Of course, it was terrifying.

“I was fighting all the way down because I knew that there must be a moment when I could handle it.”

Baumgartner said travelling faster than sound is “hard to describe because you don’t feel it.”

The pressurised suit prevented him from feeling the rushing air or even the loud bang he generated when breaking the sound barrier.

With no reference points, “you don’t know how fast you travel,” he said.

Coincidentally, Baumgartner’s accomplishment came on the 65th anniversary of the day that US test pilot Chuck Yeager became the first man to officially break the sound barrier in a jet.

Yeager commemorated that feat on Sunday, flying in the back seat of an F-15 Eagle as it broke the sound barrier at more than 9km above California’s Mojave Desert.

At Baumgartner’s insistence, about 30 cameras recorded his stunt.

Shortly after the launch early on Sunday, screens at mission control showed the capsule, dangling from the massive balloon, as it rose above the New Mexico desert. Baumgartner could be seen on video, calmly checking instruments inside the capsule.

The dive was more than just a stunt. Nasa is eager to improve its spacesuits.

After Baumgartner landed, his sponsor, Red Bull, posted a picture to Facebook of him kneeling on the ground. It generated nearly 216000 likes, 10000 comments and more than 29000 shares in less than 40 minutes. On Twitter, half the worldwide trending topics were related to the jump. Among them was this tweet from Nasa: “Congratulations to Felix Baumgartner and RedBull Stratos on his record-breaking leap from the edge of space!”

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