DAREDEVIL skydiver Felix Baumgartner broke more then the sound barrier when he fell to Earth from the edge of space at 833.9mph - he smashed four world records, including 7.3 million live viewers on YouTube.
The man known as “Fearless Felix” , who at 24-miles up claimed the records for the highest altitude manned balloon flight and the highest altitude skydive, also became the world’s first supersonic skydiver by breaking the sound barrier at Mach 1.24.
VIDEO: Relive the momment or watch again - press the play button to see how the world, through the internet, watched his death-defying free fall from a balloon in the the stratosphere.
As Baumgartner ascended in the balloon, so did the number of viewers watching YouTube’s live stream of the event.Its popularity grew as the moment of the jump drew closer, as people kept sharing links with each other on Twitter and Facebook and websites embedded the stream.
A worldwide audience watched live on the internet via cameras mounted on his capsule as Baumgartner, wearing a pressurised suit, stood in the doorway of his capsule, gave a thumbs-up and leapt into the stratosphere.
In the United States, the opportunity to watch the jump on TV was limited to the Discovery Channel, though more than 40 television networks in 50 total countries carried the live feed, organisers said. It was streamed by more than 130 digital outlets.
After Baumgartner landed, sponsor Red Bull posted a picture of the daredevil on his knees to Facebook. In less than 40 minutes, the picture was shared more than 29,000 times and generated nearly 216,000 likes and more than 10,000 comments. Immediately after the jump, Red Bull solicited questions for Baumgartner through Facebook and Twitter, promising to answer three at a post-jump news conference.
During the jump and the moments after Baumgartner safely landed, half the worldwide trending topics on Twitter had something to do with the jump - pushing past tweets about Justin Bieber and seven National Football League games being played at the same time. Celebrities of all kinds weighed in, including athletes, actors and high-profile corporate executives.
“It’s pretty amazing that I can watch, live on my computer, a man riding a balloon to the edge of space so he can jump out of it. #TheFuture,” tweeted Wil Wheaton, who acted in popular science-fiction series Star Trek: The Next Generation.
“Felix Baumgartner is a boss,” tweeted Jozy Altidore, a soccer player for the US men’s national team.
Two threads related to the jump made the front page of Reddit. Users quickly upvoted a request for Baumgartner to participate in an Ask Me Anything on the site, where users pepper someone on the site with questions about anything they want. US President Barack Obama held court as the subject of a similar thread in August.
Nearly 29,000 users weighed in on a separate thread about the jump itself, voting it up and down and robustly commenting.
Landing on his feet in the desert, he lifted his arms in victory to the cheers of jubilant friends and spectators who closely followed his descent in a live television feed at the command centre.
“When I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble, you do not think about breaking records anymore, you do not think about gaining scientific data,” he said after the jump. “The only thing you want is to come back alive.
“Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are,” an exuberant Baumgartner told reporters outside mission control after the jump.
Baumgartner’s descent lasted just over nine minutes, about half of it in a free fall of 119,846ft (36,530m), according to Brian Utley, a jump observer from the FAI, an international group which works to determine and maintain the integrity of aviation records. He said the speed calculations were preliminary figures.
During the first part of Baumgartner’s free fall, anxious onlookers at the command centre held their breath as he appeared to spin uncontrollably.
“When I was spinning the first 10, 20 seconds, I never thought I was going to lose my life but I was disappointed because I’m going to lose my record. I put seven years of my life into this,” he said.
He added: “In that situation, when you spin around, it’s like hell and you don’t know if you can get out of that spin or not. Of course it was terrifying. I was fighting all the way down because I knew that there must be a moment where I can handle it.”
Baumgartner said travelling faster than sound is “hard to describe because you don’t feel it”. The pressurised suit prevented him from feeling the rushing air or even the loud noise he made when breaking the sound barrier.
With no reference points, “you don’t know how fast you travel”, he said.
The 43-year-old Austrian former paratrooper with more than 2,500 jumps behind him had taken off early yesterday in a capsule carried by a 55-storey ultra-thin helium balloon.
His ascent was tense at times and included concerns about how well his facial shield was working.
Any contact with the capsule on his exit could have torn his suit, a rip which could expose him to a lack of oxygen and temperatures as low as minus 56.67C (minus 70F). That could have caused lethal bubbles to form in his bodily fluids.
But none of that happened. He activated his parachute as he neared Earth, gently gliding into the desert about 40 miles (64.37km) east of Roswell and landing smoothly. The images triggered another loud cheer from onlookers at mission control, among them his mother, Eva Baumgartner, who was overcome with emotion, crying.
He then was taken by helicopter to meet fellow members of his team, whom he hugged in celebration.
Coincidentally, Baumgartner’s accomplishment came on the 65th anniversary of the day that US test pilot Chuck Yeager became the first man to officially break the sound barrier in a jet.
Yeager, in fact, commemorated that feat yesterday, flying in the back seat of an F-15 Eagle as it broke the sound barrier at more than 30,000ft (9,144m) above California’s Mojave Desert.
At Baumgartner’s insistence, some 30 cameras recorded his stunt. Shortly after launch, screens at mission control showed the capsule, dangling from the massive balloon, as it rose gracefully above the New Mexico desert, with cheers erupting from organisers. Baumgartner could be seen on video, calmly checking instruments inside the capsule.
The dive was, in fact, more than just a stunt. Nasa is eager to improve its blueprints for future spacesuits.
Baumgartner’s team included Joe Kittinger, who first tried to break the sound barrier from 19.5 miles (31.38km) up in 1960, reaching speeds of 614mph (988kph). With Kittinger inside mission control, the two men could be heard going over technical details during the ascension.
“Our guardian angel will take care of you,” Kittinger radioed to Baumgartner around the 100,000ft (30,480m) mark.
An hour into the flight, Baumgartner had ascended more than 63,000ft (19,200m) and had gone through a trial run of the jump sequence. Ballast was dropped to speed up the ascent.
Kittinger told him: “Everything is in the green. Doing great.”
As Baumgartner ascended, so did the number of viewers watching on YouTube; company officials said the event broke a site record with more than 8 million simultaneous live streams at its peak.
After Baumgartner landed, his sponsor, Red Bull, posted a picture of him on his knees on the ground to Facebook, generating nearly 216,000 likes, 10,000 comments and more than 29,000 shares in less than 40 minutes.
On Twitter, half the worldwide trending topics had something to do with the jump. Among them was this tweet from NS: “Congratulations to Felix Baumgartner and RedBull Stratos on record-breaking leap from the edge of space!”
This attempt marked the end of a long road for Baumgartner, a record-setting high-altitude jumper. He already made two preparation jumps in the area, one from 15 miles (24.14km) high and another from 18 miles (28.97km) high. He has said this was his final jump.
Red Bull has never said how much the long-running, complex project cost.
Although he broke the sound barrier, the highest manned-balloon flight record and became the man to jump from the highest altitude, he failed to break Kittinger’s 5 minutes, 35 seconds longest free fall record. Baumgartner’s was timed at 4 minutes and 20 seconds in free fall.
He said he opened his parachute at 5,000ft (1,524m) because that was the plan.
“I was putting everything out there, and hope for the best and if we left one record for Joe - hey, it’s fine,” he said when asked if he intentionally left the record for Kittinger to hold.
“We needed Joe Kittinger to help us break his own record and that tells the story of how difficult it was and how smart they were in the ‘60s. He is 84 years old and he is still so bright and intelligent and enthusiastic.”
Baumgartner has said he plans to settle down with his girlfriend and fly helicopters on mountain rescue and firefighting missions in the US and Austria.
Before that, though, he said: “I’ll go back to LA to chill out for a few days... will take it easy as hell, trust me.”