Baumgartner Breaks Skydiving Record, Speed of Sound

Austrian Skydiver Felix Baumgartner is the new skydiving world record holder.

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Despite a temporarily malfunctioning heat visor, numerous delays, and the perils of a near-vacuum environment, Felix Baumgartner broke the 50-year-old record for world's highest skydive as he successfully jumped from more than 24 miles above the Earth's surface.

The 128,000-foot ascent took more than two hours as Baumgartner patiently wondered whether he'd ever see the ground again. Unofficial data from the jump suggests Baumgartner became the first human to break the speed of sound outside of an airplane as he hit speeds of nearly 730 MPH. He also broke world records for highest free fall and highest manned balloon flight. He did not break the record for longest free fall time-wise--his 4-minute, 22 second drop was slightly less than Joseph Kittinger, the retired Air Force colonel who held the record before Baumgartner.

[PHOTOS: See Baumgartner Break Skydiving World Record.]

Kittinger, who helped Baumgartner's team, said "couldn't have done it any better myself," as Baumgartner touched down and immediately fell to his knees in jubilation in Roswell, N.M.

The mission was put into doubt at the last second as his helmet's visor was apparently malfunctioning during the ascent. The visor wasn't providing heat to Baumgartner--at the sub-zero temperatures and near-vacuum conditions of the stratosphere, Baumgartner's body could have boiled if his pressurized suit malfunctioned. The team decided to go ahead with the jump anyway: after spinning at high speed during freefall for more than a minute, Baumgartner stabilized and radioed back to the ground. "Guys, can you hear me," he said. "My visor's fogging up." The fog was apparently not a problem as he landed safely and didn't immediately appear to suffer any ill effects from the jump.

[One Giant Leap: The Inside Story of Baumgartner's Jump]

As Baumgartner prepared to exit his capsule, which was carried into the stratosphere by a 600-foot-high polyethylene balloon, he radioed to mission control: "The whole world is watching me," he said.

Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at jkoebler@usnews.com.