On Tuesday October 9th, people all over the world will watch with abated breath as 43-year-old Austrian Skydiver Felix Baumgartner, attempts his history-making jump from the edge of Space. If successful, he will break four records including, the first man to break the speed of sound in a free fall.
If all goes according to plan at 7.00am Central Standard Time 'Fearless Felix' will make his way to the designated launching pad in Roswell, New Mexico and hop aboard his pressurized capsule. Once he is comfortably settled, the officials will release the 400 feet wide helium balloon that will carry the extreme base jumper 23 miles above the surface of the earth or about three times the altitude that normal airplanes fly at, to the edge of space - A journey that is expected to take about 2.5 hours.
Once there, he will abandon the safety of his capsule and leap off. Thanks to the lack of atmospheric pressure, his initial plunge down will be so swift that he is expected to break through the sound barrier within the first 35 seconds of his leap - This means that he will be coming down faster than the speed of sound, which at that altitude is about 690 miles per hour. Felix will continue to free fall until he reaches 5,000 feet, at which point, he will open his parachute and glide back gracefully to his landing spot in New Mexico.
While the epic skydive, dubbed the Stratos Challenge, is expected to take only 10 minutes of which only 5.5 minutes will be a free fall, it has been in planning since 2005. That's because nobody has ever attempted to leap from a height this high, prior to this. Therefore, everything Felix is using starting from the mode of travel to the suit and even the parachute, had to be custom created.
The most important piece of equipment of course is the space suit he will be wearing. It is made of three layers. The inner layer is made of a rubbery membrane that lets nothing in or out. As soon as Felix opens the door of the capsule, it will be filled with air so that the pressure inside is same as that outside - This is extremely important since at 120,000 feet about the ground the pressure is 1,000 times less than that at sea level and if Felix was not pressurized at the same level, he would experience gas bubbles in his blood or what is commonly known as decompression sickness. What's even more interesting is that the suit is 'smart' enough to adjust the internal pressure as it changes, during his free fall.
The second layer of the suit is a crocheted net made of special thread that helps prevent the first rubbery membrane layer from inflating too much. The third and outermost layer is made from a material that is both fire retardant and insulating and can therefore protect Felix in temperatures, ranging from 100° F to -90°F.
Also important is the helmet that has been made not only to protect him through the sonic boom - the sound he will hear as he pierces through the sound barrier, but also, equipped with a heated visor and sun shield to ensure clear vision at all times. In addition to that it is also designed to draw in oxygen from the two portable cylinders that are in his parachute rig and fitted with microphones to enable him to communicate with his team of experts, down below.
Despite the fact that all this specialized equipment has withstood the elements in two test skydives, albeit from much lower altitudes, nobody knows for sure how the grand finale will end. So many things could go wrong, starting with the bursting of the helium balloon before it gets to its designated height, to Felix spinning down too fast as he makes his descent which, could result in him losing consciousness or worse, cause brain damage. The biggest unknown of all, is how is how his suit and body will bear the impact of breaking the sound barrier.
The amazing part is that since Felix's space suit is fitted with cameras and the event will be streamed live on the Internet, we will all be able to witness the entire event, live. We sure hope and pray that this daredevil makes it make safe and sound and manages to break not one, but four records - the highest altitude free fall, the highest manned balloon flight, the longest distance traveled in free fall and, the speed record for the fastest free fall. To read more about this historic mission and see how you can view it live, go to www.redbullstratos.com.
UPDATE As Of 10/9/2012
The epic jump had to be postponed because of gusty winds and has not been rescheduled yet. So stay tuned for further updates.