ROSWELL, N.M. -- Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner landed gracefully on Earth after a 24-mile jump from the stratosphere in a dramatic, record-breaking feat that may also have marked the world's first supersonic skydive.
Baumgartner came down safely in the eastern New Mexico desert minutes about nine minutes after jumping from his capsule 128,097 feet, or roughly 24 miles, above Earth. He lifted his arms in victory, sending off loud cheers from jubilant onlookers and friends inside the mission's control center in Roswell, N.M.
"Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are," an exuberant Baumgartner told reporters outside mission control, shortly after the jump. He was expected to offer more remarks at an afternoon news conference.
The altitude he leapt from marked the highest-ever for a skydiver, though it wasn't immediately certain whether Baumgartner had broken the speed of sound during his free-fall, which was one of the goals of the mission. Organizers said the descent lasted for just over nine minutes, about half of it in free-fall.
Three hours earlier, Baumgartner, known as "Fearless Felix," had taken off in a pressurized capsule carried by a 55-story ultra-thin helium balloon. After an at-times tense ascent, which included concerns about how well his facial shield was working, the 43-year-old former military parachutist completed a final safety check-list with mission control.
As he exited his capsule from high above Earth, he flashed a thumbs-up sign, well aware that the feat was being shown on a live-stream on the Internet.
During the ensuing jump - from more than three times the height of the average cruising altitude for jetliners - Baumgartner was expected to hit a speed of 690 mph. He was believed to have reached speeds that exceeded 700 mph.
Any contact with the capsule on his exit could have torn his pressurized suit, a rip that could expose him to a lack of oxygen and temperatures as low as minus-70 degrees. That could have caused lethal bubbles to form in his bodily fluids.
But none of that happened. He activated his parachute as he neared Earth, gently gliding into the desert east of Roswell and landing without any apparent difficulty. The images triggered another loud cheer from onlookers at mission control, among them his mother, Eva Baumgartner, who was overcome with emotion, crying.
He then was taken by helicopter to meet fellow members of his team, whom he hugged in celebration.