LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

USA TODAY

Moments before stepping off a small metal platform near Roswell, N.M., on Sunday and plunging to earth from 24 miles in space, Austrian sky diver Felix Baumgartner offered a few static-filled words for posterity.

"Sometimes you have to go really high to see how small you are," said Baumgartner, 43. Then he jumped, a diminishing white dot against an impossibly black sky.

While his ode to Neil Armstrong's famous moon landing pronouncement was poignant, it's not entirely accurate.

With this leap from 128,000 feet, Baumgartner becomes a larger-than-life figure in aerospace history, joining the ranks of those who have pushed personal and technological limits as they tempted fate and tested science.

He reached 833.9 mph, or mach 1.24, which is faster than the speed of sound. No one has ever reached that speed wearing only a high-tech suit.

He fell at supersonic speeds on the same date in 1947 that test pilot Chuck Yaeger broke the sound barrier in an aircraft.

Adding to his inevitable fame is the fact that the feat was streamed live on computers and smartphones around the world using more than 30 high-definition cameras arrayed on the ground as well as in and outside of his capsule. A two-hour BBC documentary will hit TV soon, and there surely will be the inevitable chats with talk show hosts and calls from admirers such as Tom Cruise.

But so far none of that seems to be getting to Baumgartner's buzz-cut head.

Baumgartner's jump was possible partly due to an expensive operation packed with top scientists, but also due to the pioneering work of adventurers past, says Margaret Weitekamp, a curator at the National Air and Space Museum focusing on popular culture and space flight.

"In many ways, Felix was standing on the shoulders of giants," she says. "Baumgartner himself will be advancing the science of how the human body responds to the upper atmosphere, just as many test pilots did before him."

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://on.wmaz.com/1h8dtkv