Felix Baumgartner stood alone at the edge of space, poised in the open doorway of a capsule suspended above Earth and wondering if he would make it back alive.
Thirty-nine kilometres below him, millions of people were right there with him, watching on the Internet and marvelling at the wonder of the moment.
A second later, he stepped off the capsule and barrelled toward the New Mexico desert as a tiny white speck against a darkly-tinted sky. Millions watched breathlessly as he shattered the sound barrier and then landed safely about nine minutes later, becoming the world’s first supersonic skydiver.
“It was harder than I expected,” said Mr. Baumgartner, a 43-year-old former Austrian paratrooper.
“Trust me, when you stand up there on top of the world, you become so humble. It’s not about breaking records any more. It’s not about getting scientific data. It’s all about coming home.”
The tightly-orchestrated jump meant primarily to entertain became much more than that in the dizzying, breathtaking moment — a collectively shared cross between Neil Armstrong’s moon landing and Evel Knievel’s famed motorcycle jumps.
It was part scientific wonder, part daredevil reality show, with the live-streamed event instantly capturing the world’s attention. 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 live feed, organizers said.
It was a last hurrah for what some have billed as a dying Space Age, as NASA’s shuttle program ends and the ways humans explore space are dramatically changing. As the jump unfolded, the space shuttle Endeavor crept toward a Los Angeles museum, where it will become nothing more than an exhibit.
Baumgartner hit Mach 1.24, or 1,342 km/h, according to preliminary data, and became the first person to reach supersonic speed without travelling in a jet or a spacecraft. The capsule he jumped from had reached an altitude of 39,000 metres above Earth, carried by a 55-storey ultra-thin helium balloon.
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