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Daredevil Breaks Free Fall Record

Daredevil Felix Baumgartner floating safely to ground.
Red Bull/Screen Shot by Monica Ortiz
Daredevil Felix Baumgartner floating safely to ground.

Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner became the first human to break the speed of sound Sunday in a skydive 24 miles above New Mexico. It was the fastest and highest skydive on record.

Viewers around the world watched Baumgartner's historic leap from start to finish on a live online broadcast. Baumgartner rose to an altitude of 128,100 feet in a small capsule lifted by a giant helium balloon. At that height he reached the stratosphere and could see the curvature of planet Earth and space above him. Baumgartner wore a pressurized space suit and an oxygen tank for protection.

At the maximum height, Baumgartner opened the capsule door and eased himself out before making a simple "bunny hop" down to earth. The moments after the jump were the most dangerous, as the atmospheric pressure gave him little control, possibly causing him to spin out of control. From the online broadcast Baumgarnter appeared as a white speck tumbling downward against a hazy grey backdrop.


Later Baumgartner shared that his biggest concern as he fell was a foggy helmet visor blocking his view. Four and a half minutes after his jump, Baumgartner opened his parachute and floated down to the ground about 40 miles outside Roswell. After a safe landing, he knelt on a golden grassy plain and lifted his arms triumphantly. Meanwhile his crew inside Mission Control erupted in cheers.

Baumgartner began skydiving at the age of 16. Later he joined the Austrian military and became a licensed helicopter pilot. His long resume of daring stunts includes jumping from the world's tallest building in Taiwan and dropping 623 feet into the mouth of a cave.

The Associated Press reported Sunday's skydive would be Baumgartner's last extreme stunt. He now plans to stay airborne flying helicopters in rescue and firefighting missions.