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VIDEO: Skydiver Felix Baumgartner breaks sound barrier, altitude record

Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner today broke a 51-year-old record for the world's highest skydive from 128,000ft, and became the first human to break the sound barrier in free fall.

Baumgartner exceeded M1.24 near the beginning of a roughly 4min 22sec free-fall from nearly 37km above the Earth, or 25,000ft higher than the previous record set in 1960.

"Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you are," Baumgartner said moments before delivering a salute and jumping, the curvature of the Earth visible from the camera attached to his capsule.

Joseph Kittinger, the previous skydive altitude record holder, participated in the mission as designated communicator to Baumgartner.

The Red Bull Stratos project also easily broke the 51-year-old record for highest manned balloon flight of nearly 114,000ft.

Rex Features

The record-setting jump had to rely on the rapid preparation of a back-up balloon. Baumgartner's primary balloon was knocked over by a sudden wind gust on 9 October in the initial attempt. On the second attempt, a glitch prevented a heating system from activating on Baumgartner's face visor during the ascent, but project officials decided to continue the jump anyway.

Baumgartner's free-fall continued for nearly 120,000ft, including a long period in which he was spinning out of control. In denser air, skydivers are able to use the resistance of the air to control their direction. Baumgartner also faced the problem of regaining control in a pressurised spacesuit that insulated his body from the the sensation of the air rushing around him.

"It's like swimming without touching the water," Baumgartner said, adding later: "There was a period of time where I really thought I was in trouble."

But Baumgartner regained control as the air density increased in lower altitudes, allowing him to continue the free-fall at full speed instead of deploying a drogue chute.

Red Bull/Rex Features

Baumgartner started working on breaking the skydiving altitude record five years ago, with Red Bull signing on to sponsor his attempt in January 2010. The nearly three-year project will be portrayed in a documentary to be shown in about one month by the BBC and NatGeo.

The process included test jumps by Baumgartner in July at about 97,000ft and in March from about 72,000ft, reaching a speed in freefall of 574km/h (365mph).

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