Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian skydiver and base jumper, is preparing an attempt to break a 50 year old record set by Captain Joe Kittinger of the US Air Force, to break the world’s highest skydive.
Baumgartner will ride in a pressurized capsule below a helium filled balloon to reach his launching altitude, 23 miles above the earth. The jump, sponsored by energy drink company, Red Bull, has a a scientific purpose: to further research in the potential for astronauts and space tourists to bailout from a disabled space craft.
Incredibly, Baumgartner’s freefall could break the sound barrier approximately 30,000 feet above ground reaching speeds in excess of 640 mph (304 m/s). At this point he will traveling at Mach 1, which is Supersonic. The jump is perilous and previous attempts by others have resulted in death. Air temperatures at the stratospheric heights can be as low as -95 °C (140ºF), Nitrogen bubbles can form in the blood (the ‘bends’) and in such thin air, he could enter an uncontrollable flat spin.
Get this: although the plan is to land at or near the original launch site, Baumgartner may drift up to 322 km (200 miles) off target, following the six minute plunge fraught with danger. Only when he is one mile above ground will his parachute be deployed.