NEW: "This is way bigger than I had anticipated," record-setting jumper says
He soared up to 24 miles -- for the highest balloon ride and highest jump ever
Then the Austrian daredevil hit 833.9 mph at one point, breaking the speed of sound
Risks were low temperatures, thin atmosphere and a possible loss of consciousness
One step, 128,100 feet, and millions of amazed gasps.
In a moment that seems likely to live forever in the annals of derring-do, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner on Sunday rode a balloon to the edge of space, saluted and stepped off a platform 24 miles high with as much ease as any of us mere mortals might step off a curb.
The former soldier hurtled through the sky at up to more than 830 mph, breaking the sound barrier in a tumbling, gut-churning four-minute free fall before popping his parachute and making a running landing in the New Mexico desert.
Then he fell to his knees and pumped his fists.
“Goosebumps … Incredible!” one Twitter user posted shortly after the jump.
“My dad told me of Maradona and Neil Armstrong, I will tell my children of Ronaldo and Felix Baumgartner,” another user wrote, referring to Latin American soccer stars and the first man to walk on the moon.
YouTube carried the jump live. At least 8 million people watched live, YouTube said.
While the jump was spectacle enough on its own, it also could have important implications for spaceflight.
The 100-pound pressurized flight suit and helmet Baumgartner wore to survive the lethally thin atmosphere and intense cold of near-space could also help save the lives of astronauts forced to bail out of a malfunctioning rocket on its way to space.
“It’s hard to realize what happened because there’s still so many emotions,” Baumgartner said shortly after landing. “I had tears in my eyes when I was coming back a couple of times because you’re sitting there and you thought about that moment so many times, you know, how it would feel and how it would look like.”
“And this is way bigger than I had anticipated,” he said.
Dubbed “Fearless Felix,” the helicopter pilot and former soldier had parachuted from such landmarks as the Petronas Towers in Malaysia and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.
Baumgartner and his team spent five years preparing for Sunday’s jump, which had been postponed twice before because of weather.
By most accounts, all the hard work paid off. According to preliminary findings cited by Brian Utley, an official observer monitoring the mission, the 43-year-old Baumgartner flew higher than anyone ever in a helium balloon and broke the record for the highest jump.