Felix Baumgartner is no stranger to danger, he’s a helicopter pilot and has been base jumping for years. Lately though, his pursuits have grown more dramatic. He was the first to skydive the English Channel, the BBC reports, and the Sydney Morning Herald reports that he has previously made jumps from as high as 17 miles up. But that’s nothing compared to what he is preparing for next. His aim is to ride a weather balloon to a height of 23 miles, three times as high as commercial airliners fly.
Of course, as both papers report, it’s not nearly as simple as riding a balloon up, then jumping. Many preparations have to be made, not the least of which is the design of a special suit that looks eerily similar to that worn by astronauts walking on the moon. This is because at such high altitudes, the air pressure is so thin it would case his blood to boil. Plus, the temperature up there is close to sixty below. He’ll be fitted with a special oxygen tank for breathing.
All this takes money of course, and luckily for Baumgartner, he was able to attract a sponsor: Red Bull, maker of the energy drink.
Falling from such a height means that after a very short while, he’ll be traveling faster than the speed of sound. He’s not going to let it go any longer than that however, after just five minutes of falling, he’ll deploy a special chute that will be able to withstand the sudden tug of the high speed fall. Baumgartner plans to climb into his balloon somewhere in New Mexico this August and expects to land within a couple hundred miles of his launch site, though falling from such a great height leaves him exposed to considerable drift if the wind is blowing even a little bit.
Baumgartner, who is Austrian, hasn’t said what he’ll be thinking about during the three hours it will take to reach the proper altitude, nor what he experts will go through is mind during that five minute free fall. He has said he expects to busy for that part though, because he will need to use all of his experience to keep himself from spiraling, an event that if it gets out of hand, could lead to him blacking out and unable to pull his rip cord. He’s also mentioned on several occasions to the media that he’s really excited about his jump and is more looking forward to it, than fearing what could happen to him if things go wrong.
If successful, the skydive will break several records: highest jump, highest manned balloon flight, longest distance traveled in a free fall, and highest speed of freefall.