Felix Baumgartner stood alone at the edge of space, poised in the open doorway of a capsule suspended above Earth and wondering if he would make it back alive. Twenty-four miles (39 km) below him, millions of people were right there with him, watching on the internet and marveling at the wonder of the moment.
A second later, he stepped off the capsule and barrelled toward the New Mexico desert as a tiny white speck against a darkly-tinted sky. Millions watched him breathlessly as he shattered the sound barrier and then landed safely about nine minutes later, becoming the world’s first supersonic skydiver.
After Baumgartner landed, his sponsor, Red Bull, posted a picture to Facebook of him kneeling on the ground. It generated nearly 216,000 likes, 10,000 comments and more than 29,000 shares in less than 40 minutes.
“When I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble, you do not think about breaking records anymore, you do not think about gaining scientific data,” Baumgartner said after the jump. “The only thing you want is to come back alive.”
The tightly-orchestrated jump meant primarily to entertain became much more than that in the dizzying, breathtaking moment – a collectively shared cross between Neil Armstrong’s moon landing and Evel Knievel’s famed motorcycle jumps.
It was part scientific wonder, part daredevil reality show, with the live-streamed event instantly capturing the world’s attention. It proved, once again, the power of the internet in a world where news travels as fast as Twitter.
The event happened without a network broadcast in the United States, though organizers said more than 40 television stations in 50 countries – including cable’s Discovery Channel in the U.S. – carried the live feed. Instead, millions flocked online, drawing more than 8 million simultaneous views to a YouTube live stream at its peak, YouTube officials said.
More than 130 digital outlets carried the live feed, organizers said.