Skydiver gearing up again for jump from stratosphere on Sunday

Sat Oct 13, 2012 6:43pm EDT
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By Irene Klotz

(Reuters) - An Austrian daredevil hopes to end a week-long delay on Sunday and skydive from a balloon flying 23 miles above the planet, breaking a 52-year-old altitude record - and the sound barrier in the process.

On Saturday, skydiver Felix Baumgartner, 43, and his team were evaluating the weather in Roswell, New Mexico, from where his massive but extremely delicate helium balloon will be launched. High winds scrapped launch attempts throughout this past week.

The 30 million-cubic-foot (850,000-cubic-metre) plastic balloon, which is about one-tenth the thickness of a Ziploc bag, roughly as thin as a dry cleaner bag, can only be launched if winds are roughly 2 mph or less between ground level and an altitude of about 800 feet.

The next launch attempt is targeted for 6:30 a.m. MDT (8:30 a.m. EDT/1230 GMT) on Sunday.

"Felix is ready to saddle up, and we're ready to help him get there," project advisor Joe Kittinger, who holds the current record for a high-altitude parachute jump, wrote on Twitter Saturday.

In 1960, Kittinger, now a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, jumped from a balloon flying at 102,800 feet and fell for 4 minutes and 36 seconds before opening his parachute. Baumgartner hopes to top that with a jump from 120,000 feet and freefall for 5 minutes and 35 seconds.

There is so little air in the upper reaches of the atmosphere that after about 30 seconds of freefall, Baumgartner should be moving faster than the speed of sound, which is roughly 690 mph at that altitude.

Among the risks Baumgartner faces is the chance that his supersonic body will trigger shock waves that could collide with the force of an explosion. But Baumgartner's medical team doesn't believe this situation is very likely because the air in the stratosphere is too thin to convey sound waves.   Continued...