Fearless’ Felix’s 23-mile supersonic skydive to go ahead TODAY
Preparing to fall to Earth
Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner hopes to make a second attempt to become the world’s first supersonic skydiver with a 23-mile free fall over New Mexico on Sunday.
Baumgartner will be ready at sunrise to launch his 30-million cubic foot helium balloon to hoist a 3,000-pound capsule that will carry him 23 miles up into the sky.
He is hoping to become the first skydiver to break the sound barrier by jumping from a capsule floated more than 120,000 feet into the stratosphere by an ultra-thin, 55-story helium balloon.
High winds at Roswell, New Mexico caused the postponement of Felix Baumgartner’s attempt to skydive from 23-miles up and break the sound barrier on his re-entry
The jump was postponed due to wind Monday, then aborted twice more for the same reason on Tuesady and Thursday. Meteorologists say conditions will finally be favorable for the jump Sunday morning.The balloon is so delicate that it can take off only if winds on the ground are 2 mph or less.
Baumgartner is disappointed ‘like the rest of us’ but taking a couple of days of critical downtime, his high-performance athletic trainer, Andy Walshe, said Wednesday.Team meteorologist Don Day noted during a media briefing at the Roswell launch site that weather delays are common in stratospheric ballooning.
‘It takes a lot of patience,’ said Joe Kittinger, a former Air Force captain whose free-fall record Baumgartner is trying to break.Kittinger is a lead member of Baumgartner’s team, and will be the only member of mission control who will communicate directly with Baumgartner during his nearly three-hour ascent in a pressurized capsule.
Kittinger said his 1960 jump, the first attempt to break the sound barrier, also was delayed by weather. He leapt from a helium balloon-floated, open-air gondola from an altitude of 19.5 miles.’I was ready to go and had to wait,’ Kittinger said at the briefing. ‘It’s frustrating. But you have to go through it. What you see is what you get.’Kittinger reached 614 mph, or Mach 0.9. Baumgartner, a former military parachutist from Austria, hopes to reach 690 mph, or Mach 1.
Kittinger also was involved in the Air Force’s Excelsior project, making a series of parachute jumps from helium balloons in the stratosphere in 1959 and 1960. Excelsior was a test bed for the nation’s space program. With one balloon flight, ‘we waited 30 days and we never got it off,’ Kittinger said.
In this handout from Red Bull Stratos, Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria reacts after his mission was aborted
Baumgartner’s team had hoped to make the launch in the summer, when there is less wind, but was forced to delay it until October because of problems with the capsule.
One of the disappointments of Tuesday’s aborted launch was losing the balloon. The balloons are so fragile that once they are taken out of the box, they cannot be reused. The team has one more balloon. Team members said they are looking for a backup, but that could take four weeks or more.
Art Thompson, the project’s technical director, said there likely would be windows in the weather for making the jump through November, but declined to speculate on long-term plans beyond that.
The jump is being sponsored by energy drink maker Red Bull. The costs have not been disclosed.
But Thompson said Wednesday the balloons cost several hundred thousand dollars each, and he estimated the team lost $60,000 to $70,000 in helium with the aborted jump.
Weather conditions at the Roswell launch site caused Tuesday’s delay as Baumgartner’s three-hour ascent in a high-altitude balloon cannot start unless ground wind speeds are below two miles an hour.
The record-breaking attempt had been scheduled to begin at 11.30am but the launch was called off at 11.46am local time.Meteorologists said Wednesday morning should have provide ideal weather conditions for the Austrian as he attempts to become the first human to break the sound barrier unaided by a vehicle.The 43-year-old was in his capsule when the attempt was called off. He was informed by retired U.S. Air Force Col Joe Kittinger who was back at mission control of the Red Bull Stratos project.
The balloon launch to the edge of space at 120,000 feet had already been postponed once before because of high winds.
However, when the Austrian finally entered the capsule just before 11am MDT, the crews discovered that winds 700 feet above the ground, at the top of the balloon, were 20 mph, which was far above the safe limit of 3 mph.
After the flight was postponed for the second time in as many days, some openly wondered whether there was a deliberate attempt by the Red Bull Stratos team to build suspense.
Sources close to Red Bull have allegedly said that the jump was never intended to occur before tomorrow to ensure ‘maximum coverage’ and must take place before 6pm in Europe to hit newspaper deadline times on the continent.
During weekend practices, Baumgartner went over the technical details in the capsule before sitting solemnly in his trailer, wearing his specially designed $200,000 suit, to gather his thoughts.
Red Bull Stratos announced on Friday that the jump had been moved from Monday to Tuesday due to a cold front with gusty winds.
The jump can only be made if winds on the ground are under 2 mph for the initial launch.
Wearing only a pressurized suit and a parachute, Baumgartner will pause at the hatch of his tiny capsule as it ascends into the heavens beneath one of the biggest balloons ever made.
No more than 20 minutes later, the world will know whether this audacious Austrian has become the first skydiver to break the sound barrier in the highest, fastest freefall descent in history.
If anything goes wrong – and there is plenty that could – it might get very, very messy.The nightmare scenario that Felix’s project director likens to a ‘horror film’ would involve his blood boiling, brain bursting and eyeballs popping out – all of it watched live via the internet around the globe.
This may sound like the sort of lunatic feat that no one but a man who has spent 20 years at the more extreme end of extreme sports would want anything to do with.But a team of engineers, doctors and pilots have spent five years working alongside Baumgartner, 43, to ensure he gets down alive and in one piece.For one of them, Dr Jonathan Clark, the operation’s medical director, there is an intensely personal reason for being involved.
Since his astronaut wife Laurel was killed in 2003 when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas, the former Nasa flight surgeon has devoted his career to working to improve astronauts’ chances of surviving a similar high-altitude disaster.
‘I have every expectation he’ll come through this successfully,’ says Dr Clark. ‘But, you know, it is still an unknown.’
As for Baumgartner, quite the Hollywood action man with his rugged good looks and Born To Fly tattooed on his arm, he and his backers are sufficiently confident that they are filming the descent and streaming it on YouTube.Banishing talk of nerves, he says he would never jump if the odds were against him. And he insists he hasn’t got a death wish.
Of the skeptics who will be holding their hands in front of their eyes as he hurtles towards Earth at nearly 700mph, he says simply: ‘I think they underestimate the skills of a skydiver.’Fearless Felix has been flinging himself out of planes and off skyscrapers for years.
He has clocked up 2,500 skydiving jumps, including one in which he became the first person to ‘fly’ across the English Channel, with carbon-fibre wings strapped to his back
He has performed various horrifying ‘base jumps’, freefalling off the Christ statue in Rio and leaping head-first into a pitch black, 620ft-deep cave in Croatia.
Baumgartner says his supersonic plunge will be the end of his ‘journey’ as a daredevil.
He intends to retire with his girlfriend and settle down to a quiet life – which in his case means becoming a rescue helicopter pilot.
Ahead of his grand finale, he has completed a couple of high-altitude dress rehearsals. In July, he leapt from 96,640ft – just 6,000ft shy of a world record set in 1960 by Joe Kittinger, a U.S. air force test pilot.
The grandfather of stratosphere skydiving, 84-year-old Colonel Kittinger has become Baumgartner’s mentor and will be the voice he hears in his headset as he communicates with mission control before and during the jump.
But a disembodied voice will not protect him against some of the most extreme forces in nature.
‘You can feel in your stomach and every part of your body that it does not want to be there,’ says the Austrian, a former military parachutist, laconically.
The body in question will be encased in a specially designed $200,000 spacesuit. It has an insulating exterior that can withstand extreme temperatures, and an airtight inner layer filled with pressurised oxygen.
It also has one crucial difference to the spacesuits worn by astronauts, which is that it remains highly flexible when it is fully pressurised.
Baumgartner’s visor is fitted with an intensely powerful heat regulator that should keep his view free of fog and frost.
The suit’s 12lb chest pack contains monitoring and tracking equipment together with a voice transmitter so he can talk to mission control on the way down. The pack is connected to a device on his wrist that allows him to monitor his speed and altitude.
The capsule in which he’ll make his ascent is 11ft high and 8ft in diameter, made from fibreglass strengthened by an internal metal frame, and weighs as much as a Volkswagen Beetle.
It was designed by some of the scientists who created the U.S. stealth bomber and is based on the famous Nasa Apollo rocket, but with a few key design differences.
The exit hatch is bigger for a start, designed to prevent the sort of catastrophe that befell Soviet high-altitude sky diver Pyotr Dolgov in 1962. Struggling to leave his capsule in his cumbersome spacesuit, Dolgov cracked his visor slightly on the door.
He was dead by the time he landed, a victim of ebullism, the terrifying condition in which the drastically lower air pressure above 62,000ft makes liquids in the body start to bubble and vaporise, inflating the body and bringing unconsciousness within 15 seconds.
Unfortunately for Baumgartner’s sponsor, Red Bull, he won’t be able to consume any of the fizzy energy drink on the way up.
The air pressure inside the capsule will still be significantly lower than at sea level, and any kind of gas inside his body could prove extremely uncomfortable. The Austrian company won’t say how much it has sunk into the project, but it must surely run into millions.
Weather permitting (the balloon material is so flimsy the ground level wind cannot be stronger than 2mph), the launch will take place on a runway in the New Mexico desert.
A ten-strong team wearing cotton gloves and protective suits to prevent them ripping the fabric will pump helium from two large lorries into a $241,000 balloon that has been hailed as the biggest ever to lift a passenger.
When inflated, it is as high as a 55-story building with a volume of 30 million cubic feet.
Made from strengthened plastic, it is a tenth of the thickness of a sandwich bag. Baumgartner has limited space to move around in the capsule and the balloon will be largely steered remotely from mission control down on the ground.
If all goes well, the journey will take just under three hours. The biggest danger he faces on the way up is the risk of the balloon rupturing soon after take-off.
If that happens, Fearless Felix won’t have time to open the hatch and get out, and will come crashing down inside the capsule.
When it reaches the jumping height of 120,000ft three times the altitude at which airliners fly – he will look out on a black rather than blue daytime sky while he waits for the final ‘clear to jump’ message from mission control.
At that point, he will depressurise the capsule, pressurise his suit and open the exit door (the capsule will later automatically detach from the balloon and parachute back to Earth).
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