Skydiver lands safely after bid to break sound barrier

  • Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2012 2:32 p.m.

ROSWELL, N.M. — Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner has landed on Earth after a jump from the stratosphere in what could be the world’s first supersonic skydive.

Baumgartner landed in eastern New Mexico desert minutes after jumping from 28,000 feet, or 24 miles.

He lifted his arms in victory shortly after landing.

He took off in a pressurized capsule carried by a 55-story ultra-thin helium balloon. He jumped from more than three times the height of the average cruising altitude for jetliners.

Baumgartner was expected to hit a speed of 690 mph before activating his parachute about 5,000 above the ground in southeastern New Mexico.

Baumgartner, in a high-tech suit, jumped into a near vacuum with no oxygen to begin what is expected to be the fastest, farthest free fall from the highest-ever manned balloon.

Coincidentally, Baumgartner’s feat also marked the 65th anniversary of U.S. test pilot Chuck Yeager successful attempt to become the first man to officially break the sound barrier aboard an airplane.

At Baumgartner’s insistence, some 30 cameras recorded the event Sunday. While it had been pegged as a live broadcast, it was actually under a 20-second delay.

Shortly after launch, screens at mission control showed the capsule as it rose above 10,000 feet, high above the New Mexico desert as cheers erupted from organizers. Baumgartner also could be seen on video checking instruments inside the capsule.

Baumgartner’s team included Joe Kittinger, who first attempted to break the sound barrier from 19.5 miles up in 1960. With Kittinger inside mission control Sunday, the two men could be heard going over technical details as the launch began.

“You are right on the button, keep it right there,” Kittinger told Baumgartner.

An hour into the flight, Baumgartner had ascended more than 63,000 feet and had gone through a trial run of the jump sequence that will send him plummeting toward Earth. Ballast was dropped to speed up the ascent.

Kittinger told him, “Everything is in the green. Doing great.”

This attempt also will 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 on 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.

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