An Austrian daredevil achieved one of the most remarkable feats of modern human endeavour last night (Sunday) with a 24-mile skydive from the edge of space, which its thought to have taken him through the sound barrier.
Felix Baumgartner, a former military parachutist, rose in a purpose-built capsule beneath a giant helium balloon to a height of more than 128,000ft - almost four times the cruising height of a passenger airliner.
After a salute to the millions watching around the world, Baumgartner jumped from the capsule and plummeted toward earth, reaching a speed of 706mph, faster than the speed of sound, according to his spokesman.
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, which was broadcast on television around the world, 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 Baumgartner that 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.
Infrared cameras captured him as 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.
Baumgartner's family and friends, including his parents, Ava and Felix, and girlfriend, Nicole Oetl, who had travelled to New Mexico watch, 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.
In his first interview last night with Austrian TV, Mr Baumgartner said: "I think 20 tons have fallen from my shoulders. I prepared for this for seven years."
After reaching such heights, Baumgartner's next ambition is to take to the sky once again. Although this time his ceiling will be much lower. He hopes to move to the country with his girlfriend, dividing his time between the US and Austria, flying helicopters, performing mountain rescues and firefighting.
"After this, I'm going to retire," he said. "Because I've been successfully doing things for the last 25 years and I'm still alive."