By TOM LEONARD IN NEW YORK
-Breaks the speed of sound after traveling at mach 1.24
-Austrian daredevil had been planning the feat for five years
-Previous launches had been delayed due to wind
-One tiny error could have resulted in his blood boiling and his brain exploding
For more than four nerve- racking minutes, he was a tiny white speck against a dark sky, hurtling from 24 miles above the Earth at up to 729mph.
Then his parachute opened and five minutes later, to the relief of the millions watching, ‘Fearless Felix’ Baumgartner was back on solid ground – having made the highest and fastest skydive in history .
In the process, the 43-year-old Austrian became the first freefall diver to break the sound barrier, and also broke the record for the highest-ever manned balloon ascent.
He made his death-defying jump from a tiny capsule that took him up to the edge of space after days of delays due to bad weather.
The helium inside the capsule’s vast silver parachute had expanded to fill nearly 30million cubic feet by the time Baumgartner opened the hatch, more than 127,000ft above the New Mexico desert.
Falling to his knees, he punched the air in triumph as his mission control room, packed with scientific experts and family including his teary-eyed mother, Eva, erupted into roars of applause.
The extreme sportsman has skydived or base-jumped off statues and skyscrapers around the world, but yesterday’s feat was easily the biggest challenge of his career.
Nobody could be quite sure about the physical effects of breaking the sound barrier in freefall, and if Baumgartner’s pressurised spacesuit and helmet had been damaged it could have been catastrophic.
The multi-million pound attempt, sponsored by the energy drink maker Red Bull, had begun before dawn as a support team unwrapped the huge parachute on a landing strip that had been hand-cleared of anything that might damage its thin fabric.
The ascent took around two-and-a-half hours, faster than expected. But there were fears the mission would once again be cancelled, after he reported that the heating device in his visor was not working properly, causing it to mist up.
He and his mentor, Joe Kittinger, back in mission control, discussed whether to terminate the attempt. Kittinger, an 84-year-old US Air Force colonel who set the previous freefall record in 1960 when he jumped from 102,800 feet, had agreed to come out of retirement to help Baumgartner set a new record.