Daredevil and the 'angel'
Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner achieved one of the most remarkable feats of modern human endeavour last night with a 38km skydive from the edge of space, thought to have taken him through the sound barrier.
He rose in a purpose-built capsule beneath a helium balloon to a height almost four times the cruising height of a passenger airliner.
After a salute to the millions watching around the world, he jumped from the capsule and plummeted towards Earth, reportedly reaching a speed of 1137km/h - faster than the speed of sound.
If officially verified, that would make him the first man to go supersonic without mechanical help.
His remarkable feat came exactly 65 years to the day after Chuck Yeager became the first man to break the sound barrier in an aeroplane, and it would be one of three world records for the jump. He also smashed the records for the highest manned balloon flight and the highest skydive.
Minutes before his historic leap, broadcast on TV, the 43-year-old sat anxiously on the edge of his capsule, looking down at Earth.
As he was instructed to cut his oxygen supply and release his safety harness, mission control in Roswell, New Mexico, told him a "guardian angel" was with him.
He addressed the world with a short speech ahead of his leap, appearing to say: "I wish you could see what I can see . Sometimes you have to be really high up to realise how small you are."
He then added: "I'm going over", before jumping.
He initially tumbled in the air, then settled into a steady head-first descent before opening his parachute. After two or three minutes, he appeared against the cloudless blue sky before steering himself to safety, landing on a patch of New Mexico scrubland just nine minutes after jumping.
His friends, parents Ava and Felix and girlfriend Nicole Oetl cheered and celebrated as it became clear he was safe.
Despite his incredible accomplishment, Baumgartner looked almost nonchalant as he hit the ground running before settling into a slow stroll. Only once his parachute had fallen behind him did he drop to his knees and punch the air in celebration.