Felix Baumgartner: The Austrian Daredevil on His World-Record Jump, Fear and Not Saying Goodbye

Baumgartner, who has previously jumped off skyscrapers and has glided across the English Channel in a winged suit, spoke to TIME's Belinda Luscombe

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Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria celebrates after successfully completing the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, N.M., on Oct. 14, 2012.

Why? Why jump from 24 miles up? Was it the speed or the altitude that interested you? 

I think it’s more watching the world from above. As a little kid, I climbed a lot of trees because I always loved the bird’s-eye view.  As soon as I turned 16, I went to the local skydiving club and learned how to skydive. And from that moment on, I was addicted.

You didn’t pause for very long on the threshold or look around before you jumped. Were you eager or afraid you might change your mind? 

I was eager. I’d been working on this for so many years, it was not a question—Do I do it or not? Plus, you cannot stand there forever. As soon as I disconnect the oxygen lines from the ship’s system and I get out of the capsule, I’m only breathing oxygen from my bailout bottle. And that’s only good for 10 minutes. I have to go off as fast as I can.

(MORE: The World’s 10 Greatest Daredevils)

Was the jump harder than you thought it was going to be?

Physically, yes. I could not sleep the night before. Then at 2 a.m. you show up at Mission Control. You do all the medical checks, and then you get in the suit. You have to breathe pure oxygen for a couple of hours. Then you get inserted into the capsule. When I took off, I’d already spent five hours in that suit. It takes a lot of force to breathe. By the time I reach 128,000 ft., I’m already worn out, but I have to perform on a really high level.

What was your first thought when you woke up the next day?

I’m glad that’s over. Honestly. I mean, it has been an incredible journey. I really enjoyed working with my team. But it occupied my mind for five years. I never relaxed. Everything I did, every time I traveled, I’d think about that project. At a certain point, you want to get it done.

People call you Fearless Felix.  What are you afraid of?

I have a lot of fears that normal people have. I’m just not scared of heights. In the beginning I had trouble with the suit. For an hour I was good, but anything longer, I had anxiety. I thought we’d have to stop the mission because I couldn’t stay in the suit. I had to work with a psychiatrist.

(VIDEO: Felix Baumgartner’s 125,000-Foot Jump) 

A lot of people can’t imagine doing what you did. Is there something that you can’t believe people do?

Deep-sea diving. I could never do that. Plus, if you look at Joe Kittinger, the guy who held the record [I broke] from the ’60s, there was very little knowledge about space suits and space in general, and he only had 33 skydives when he did it. That’s amazing.

You’ve done quite a lot of sneaky, illegal jumps from buildings and statues. Do you miss the subterfuge?

I enjoyed doing all those illegal BASE jumps, but this is different. Once in a while I love to do stuff that’s illegal.

What was the last thing you said to your family before you went up to do your jump?

I went to bed early without seeing anyone, because I always hate that say-goodbye feeling. If you look in your mom’s eyes, you know what she’s thinking, even if she plays it down. It’s hard to then turn around and go into your capsule. The first time I saw her, I was back on the ground.

(MORE: By the Numbers: What Went Into Baumgartner’s Record-Breaking Dive)

Have you heard from Chuck Yeager?

No. I was waiting for him, because I broke the speed of sound on the day he did 65 years earlier. People who are insiders say he’s gonna be pissed off.

Reader question, from Mohammed Katanbaf of Dubai: If there were only a 50% chance that you were going to survive, would you still jump?

Never. If I do something, it’s always 90% obvious and 10% unknown. Fifty-fifty means you get the same chance to die as to survive. I’d never work that way. That would be stupid.