On Monday, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner will climb into an eight-foot-capsule that looks more like a spaceship than a basket for a helium balloon – and ready himself for a record-breaking jump from 23 miles up. Monday’s test jump, from a mere 60,000 feet, is prelude to a leap which will see the spacesuited skydiver become the first person to break the speed of sound outside a vehicle.
‘We are all ready to begin,’ says Baumgartner.
Austrian Baumgartner – famous for stunts such as jumping off the Petronas Towers in Malaysia – will wear a suit similar to those worn by astronauts that will have to maintain its integrity in the near vacuum of the very high atmosphere.
‘It’s so different to fly in a suit that’s pressurized,’ Baumgartner told USA Today. ‘Once I lock that visor down, I’m in my own lonely little world. All you hear is your own breathing.’
If Baumgartner’s suit leaks, his eyeballs will boil in their sockets and his heart will explode. The pressurised capsule is built to withstand temperatures of -60 degrees Centigrade.
He plans to dive 120,000ft – nearly 23 miles – from the adapted weather balloon full of helium. The journey will take just ten minutes.
He is working with the current record holder, Colonel Joe Kittinger, who jumped from a height of 100,000 feet in 1960.
Kittinger, now 83, reached a speed of 614 miles per hour during a fall in which he passed out and woke up hanging in his parachute straps.
‘Where Felix is going is very hostile, but if he can’t make it I’m ready to step in,’ says Kittinger.
It should take 35 seconds to break the sound barrier and ten minutes in all, reaching more than 690mph.
Baumgartner will not deploy his parachute until he is less than 5,000ft from the ground and he must rely on an astronaut suit and oxygen tanks to keep him alive.
Baumgarner aims to make the record-breaking jump above New Mexico in August.
Baumgartner will make at least two test jumps at 60,000ft and 90,000ft before the world record attempt, sponsored by the energy drink manufacturer Red Bull.
He had intended to make the leap last year but a promoter named Daniel Hogan claimed the stunt was his idea and took legal action.
The claim has now been settled, clearing the way for the ultimate skydive.
Baumgartner, an Austrian helicopter pilot, hopes to break four world records: Highest-altitude freefall, highest manned balloon flight, longest distance travelled in freefall and fastest freefall.
His previous records include lowest parachute jump, 95ft off the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, and highest jump from a building – 1,479ft from the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
In 2003 he also became the first person to skydive across the English Channel.
Engineers have spent more than two years refining the suit which will keep him alive in temperatures of -70c.
The current altitude record was set by U.S. Air Force colonel Joe Kittinger, who jumped from a balloon at 102,800ft in 1960. Commercial airliners typically cruise at 35,000ft.