Standing at the edge of space above the deserts of New Mexico in the US, Felix Baumgartner paused slightly. It was a small step away from his capsule, but a 39km drop back down to earth.
“Our guardian angel will take care of you,” mission control said, and the man known as Fearless Felix jumped.
Ten heart-stopping minutes later the Austrian landed back on earth, after reaching speeds of up to 1,166kph, breaking two world records and probably becoming the world’s first supersonic skydiver.
“We love you Felix,” the control room said as his mother, Ava, wept.
Baumgartner, who claimed the records for the highest altitude manned balloon flight and the highest altitude skydive, raised his arms in a victory salute to thank his team.
“Looks like he probably broke Mach,” project commentator Bob Hager said, referring to Mach 1, used to measure the speed of sound.
Baumgartner was wearing a specially designed survival suit that kept his body intact against the hugely varying pressures during his drop back to earth.
Without it, his blood would have boiled and his lungs might have exploded.
After two aborted attempts last week, the mission was given the go-ahead on Sunday morning with the cooperation of the weather.
Baumgartner was carried up into crystal clear skies by a gigantic balloon measuring 850,000m3 with skin one-tenth the thickness of a sandwich bag. At the bottom of the balloon hung a capsule, in which Baumgartner sat in his suit.
As he reached the desired height, Baumgartner went through a checklist of 40 items with his mentor, Joe Kittinger, the previous holder of the highest-altitude manned balloon flight.
There was some concern that a heater for his visor was not working, causing it to fog.
“This is very serious, Joe,” he told Kittinger. “Sometimes it’s getting foggy when I exhale ... I do not feel heat.”
However, they decided to go ahead, watched by a record 8 million people as the jump was streamed live on YouTube.
The two-and-a-half hour journey upward, during which the curvature of the earth became visible and the skies gradually turned black, was matched with a rather more rapid descent.
Three cameras attached to Baumgartner’s suit recorded the staggering descent, his parachute opening after a freefall of just over four minutes — failing to break the existing freefall record for duration.