Skydiver jumps from 18 miles above the earth

July 26, 2012 2:38:05 AM PDT
After several days of delays, it finally happened. Daredevil skydiver Felix Baumgartner made his huge leap from the edge of space and floated safely back to Earth.

The jump happened early Wednesday morning just outside of Roswell, New Mexico. Baumgartner says he is relieved and called the experience "awesome."

He landed safely in the New Mexico desert after a freefall at more 500 miles per hour.

Framed by a striking sunrise backdrop, and launched by a giant helium filled balloon, Baumgartner climbed on to near the edge of space. It took an hour and 45 minutes for the capsule he was in to climb to 96,640 feet. Those of us on the ground could still see the balloon with the naked eye.

After a few minutes, Baumgartner opened the door and looked out.

"To me, it's almost overwhelming. When you're standing there in a pressure suit, the only thing you hear is yourself breathing and Joe Kittinger's voice. You can see the curve of the Earth," he said.

Then he jumped.

"It's kind of an awkward view. Because you've never seen black sky and you know there's only one person in the whole world who has been higher. At that moment, you definitely realize you've accomplished something really big," Baumgartner said.

Within 20 seconds of freefall, Baumgartner reached 536 miles per hour. He then pulled the rip cord of his specially designed, cutting edge parachute pack and floated back to Earth.

It's the second test jump for Baumgartner from such extreme heights and a personal best. He's aiming for a record-breaking jump from 125,000 feet, or 23 miles, in another month. He hopes to go supersonic then, breaking the speed of sound with just his body.

The next attempt could break a record set 52 years ago by his mentor, Joe Kittinger. In 1960, Kittinger jumped from 102,800 feet for the Air Force. Kittinger, who is now 84-years old, is supporting Baumgartner and was there for Wednesday's jump. The pair hugged upon Baumgartner's return. He attributes much of his success to the man whose record he will soon try to beat.

"You ready to go do the 120?" we asked Baumgartner.

"I was born ready," he replied.

Baumgartner told me there was a single moment when he felt a hint of fear.

So the next step is another jump next month. During that free fall, he could become the first person not in plane or other vehicle to break the sound barrier.

NASA is paying close attention to this Red Bull-funded project dubbed Stratos, short for stratosphere. The space agency wants to learn all it can about potential escape systems for future rocket ships.

Baumgartner won't come close to space, even on the ultimate jump that's planned for late August or early September. Space officially begins at 100 kilometers, or 62 miles -- more than 328,000 feet.

Baumgartner, a former military parachutist and extreme athlete, has jumped more than 2,500 times from planes and helicopters, as well as from skyscrapers and landmarks, including the 101-story Taipei 101 in Taiwan.

Kittinger, who turns 84 on Friday, was an Air Force captain when he made his historic jump for what was called Project Excelsior. He reached 614 mph on that dive, equivalent to Mach 0.9, just shy of the sound barrier.

Baumgartner expects to accelerate to 690 mph on his final plunge.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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