Jump from 24-miles high provides collective moment
ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) — Felix Baumgartner stood poised in the open hatch of a capsule suspended above Earth, wondering if he would make it back alive. Twenty four miles below him, millions of people were right there with him, watching on the Internet and marveling at the wonder of the moment.
A second later, he stepped off the capsule and barreled toward the New Mexico desert as a tiny white speck against a darkly-tinted sky. Millions watched him breathlessly as he shattered the sound barrier and then landed safely about nine minutes later, becoming the world's first supersonic skydiver.
"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," Baumgartner said after Sunday's jump. "The only thing you want is to come back alive."
The tightly-orchestrated jump meant to break records became much more in the dizzying, breathtaking moment — a collectively shared cross between Neil Armstrong's moon landing and Evel Knievel's famed motorcycle jumps on ABC's "Wide World of Sports."
It was part scientific wonder, part daredevil reality show, with the live-streamed event instantly capturing the world's attention on a sleepy Sunday at the same time seven NFL football games were being played in the U.S. It proved, once again, the power of the Internet in a world where news travels as fast as Twitter.
The event happened without a network broadcast in the United States, though organizers said more than 40 television stations in 50 countries — including cable's Discovery Channel in the U.S. — carried the live feed. Instead, millions flocked online, drawing more than 8 million simultaneous views to a YouTube live stream at its peak, YouTube officials said.
More than 130 digital outlets carried the feed, organizers said.
The privately funded feat came during a lull in human space exploration. As the jump unfolded, the space shuttle Endeavour crept toward a Los Angeles museum, where it will spend its retirement on display.
Baumgartner, a 43-year-old Austrian, hit Mach 1.24, or 833.9 mph, according to preliminary data, and became the first person to go faster than the speed of sound without traveling in a jet or a spacecraft. The capsule he jumped from had reached an altitude of 128,100 feet above Earth, carried by a 55-story ultra-thin helium balloon.
Landing on his feet in the desert, the man known as "Fearless Felix" lifted his arms in victory to the cheers of jubilant friends and spectators who closely followed at a command center. Among them was his mother, Eva Baumgartner, who was overcome with emotion, crying.
"Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are," an exuberant Baumgartner told reporters outside mission control after the jump.
About half of Baumgartner's nine-minute descent was a free fall of 119,846 feet, according to Brian Utley, a jump observer from the FAI, an international group that works to determine and maintain the integrity of aviation records.
During the first part of Baumgartner's free fall, anxious onlookers at the command center held their breath as he spun uncontrollably. He said he felt pressure building in his head, but did not feel as though he was close to passing out.
"When I was spinning 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."
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