EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

National News

October 15, 2012

Skydiver survives 24-mile leap

ROSWELL, N.M. — Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner landed gracefully on Earth after a 24-mile jump yesterday from the stratosphere in a daring, dramatic feat that officials said made him the first skydiver to fall faster than the speed of sound.

Baumgartner came down safely in the eastern New Mexico desert about nine minutes after jumping from his capsule 128,100 feet, or roughly 24 miles, above Earth. He lifted his arms in victory, sending off loud cheers from jubilant onlookers and friends inside the mission’s control center in Roswell, N.M.

“When I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble, you do not think about of breaking records anymore, you do not think of about gaining scientific date. The only thing you want is to come back alive,” he said after the jump.

Brian Utley, a jump observer from the International Federation of Sports Aviation, said preliminary figures show Baumgartner reached a maximum speed of 833.9 mph. That amounts to Mach 1.24, which is faster than the speed of sound. No one has ever reached that speed wearing only a high-tech suit.

Baumgartner says that traveling faster than sound is “hard to describe because you don’t feel it.” With no reference points, “you don’t know how fast you travel,” he told reporters.

“Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are,” he said.

The altitude he leapt from also marked the highest-ever for a skydiver. Organizers said the descent lasted just over nine minutes, about half of it in free fall. Utley said he traveled 119,846 feet in free fall.

Three hours earlier, Baumgartner, known as “Fearless Felix,” had taken off in a pressurized capsule carried by a 55-story ultra-thin helium balloon. After an at-times-tense ascent, which included concerns about how well his facial shield was working, the 43-year-old former military parachutist completed a final safety checklist with mission control.

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