In August 2012, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner will attempt a feat that has never been done before - freefall off a specially made capsule from the edge of space - 120,000 feet (23 miles) above earth or about three times the altitude that normal airplanes fly at.
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 freefall until he reaches 5,000 feet, at which point, he will open his parachute and glide back gracefully to his designated landing spot in New Mexico.
While the entire epic skydive is expected to take only 10 minutes, it has been in planning for over two years. That's because unlike normal skydives, this one needs a lot of special equipment, starting from the mode of travel, to a special suit and even, a custom parachute.
To go to the Earth's stratosphere, Mr. Baumgartner will travel in a pressurized capsule, which will be flown up by a 400 feet wide helium balloon. His journey to outer space is expected to take three hours.
Also pressurized will be the special suit he will be wearing. That's because the pressure at 120,000 feet about the ground is 1,000 times less than that at sea level, and without the protective suit, his blood would probably start boiling, because the boiling point of liquids drops as pressure decreases. The helmet of his suit has been made to not only protect him through the sonic boom - the sound he will hear as he pierces through the sound barrier, but also, have a heated visor and sun shield to ensure clear vision at all times.
Though the skydiver cannot practice the actual dive, he will be making two jumps from heights of 60,000 and 90,000 feet respectively, to test out all his specialized equipment.
Despite these precautions, there are a number of dangers this fearless adventurer may still encounter. The main risk of course is that his equipment fails. But even if it all works like a charm, there is the possibility that he may spin out of control when he jumps from the capsule, which could cause him to blackout. Felix is hoping that his 25 years of skydiving experience will come in handy and that his arms and legs will help him steer his flight.
Then there is always the danger that a blast of air will take him off course so that instead of landing at his destined landing spot in New Mexico, he could drift away and crash land. Finally, there is the danger of the unknown - Nobody has ever leaped from this high before, so there may be some risks that have been overlooked.
If all goes well, Felix will be breaking four records - the highest altitude freefall, the highest manned balloon flight, the longest distance traveled in freefall and, the speed record for the fastest freefall. The athlete is also hoping that his daredevil stunt will help provide scientists with valuable data on how humans will react when space tourism takes off and maybe, even open up the new extreme sport of Space diving!
While this mission may sound a little crazy, what is even more so, is that Felix is not the only one vying for it. Michel Fourmier, a 67-year-old retired US Air Force colonel is also planning a similar jump from an altitude of 25 miles or 132,000 feet!
What's even more stunning is that both men are trying to outdo a 50-year space diving record set by US Air-Force colonel Joe Kittinger, who leaped from 102,800 feet in 1960! We hope they both succeed in realizing their respective dreams.
Resources: Telegraph.co.uk, msn.com