In 13 hours, Austrian skydiver and BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner will ascend 23 miles (120,000 feet) into the upper atmosphere above New Mexico in a specially designed balloon. He will then leap out of it, fall through the air at speeds up to 690 miles per hour before opening his chute and landing safely on the earth below. That's the idea anyway. You can watch the entire thing happen, tomorrow, live on the Internet, thanks to 30 cameras placed in various locations on the craft and on Baumgartner's body.
If everything goes according to plan, Baumgartner will have broken the world's records for highest skydive, longest free fall, highest manned balloon flight and first man to go supersonic -- Baumgartner will be falling so fast, he'll break the sound barrier. If everything doesn't go according to plan... well, let's just hope everything goes according to plan.
The mission is sponsored by energy drink Red Bull, and the company insists this is much more than an attempt to grab some world records and publicity. The Stratos team plans to "share all of the data that we have" with commercial spaceflight companies and NASA.
Here are some facts about the mission that made me catch my breath.
- The balloon carrying the near-space capsule is bigger than the Statue of Liberty -- it's over 600 feet tall!
- If it wasn't for Baumgartner's pressurized suit, the low pressure in the air would literally cause his blood to boil.
- If Baumgartner's gets out of his head-first, bullet-like position during the jump, his suit could tear, and the friction on his body would be akin to a blowtorch.
- Baumgartner's suit has a stabilizing parachute that will prevent him from spinning in mid-air, and event that would cause him to pass out.
- Current skydiving world record holder Joseph Kittinger jumped from over 100,000 feet up, way back in 1960. Kittinger is part of Baumgartner's team.