Daredevil Felix Baumgartner Preps for 120,000-Foot Skydive

Felix Baumgartner, record-setting skydiver
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Felix Baumgartner has a tattoo on his arm: "Born to Fly." He will put that to the ultimate test soon, when he attempts a record-setting death-defying jump from the edge of space.

"I practiced this for so many years and now we are almost there," he said. "So this is my biggest dream, and we are one step closer."

One step closer to a dream that would be nightmare for most people -- stepping out of a capsule 120,000 feet (23 miles) above Roswell, N.M., to plummet back to Earth at 690 mph. If all goes as hoped, he will be in freefall for almost five minutes, becoming the first person to break the sound barrier outside an aircraft. He will break records that have stood for 52 years. Red Bull is sponsoring this mission, called Stratos, and its team of 200 has worked for five years to make this mission a success.

He already jumped from 90,000 feet in July. That was practice.

The jump, initially scheduled for Monday, has been pushed to Tuesday because of weather conditions, according to Red Bull. Though a cold front is expected to pass by Monday, wind speeds are expected to remain too high to launch Baumgartner's balloon.

"The good news is that we usually have a day or two after this type of cold front moves through where the weather can be favorable for a balloon launch," said Red Bull Stratos meteorologist Don Day.

Every member of the team acknowledges the risks: extreme cold, the vacuum of space, temperature fluctuations, an uncontrolled flat spin that could hit 220 rpm, drogue chute failure, spacesuit puncture, life support systems failure.

Baumgartner will ascend in a pressurized capsule at dawn, in a balloon that will be 700 feet tall when filled with helium. The preparations start at midnight, with an hour or so to oxygenate Baumgartner, to purge his body of nitrogen.

The ascent to 120,000 feet will take a couple of hours. Once Baumgartner reaches altitude, he will depressurize the capsule, step out onto a ledge, and dive back down to Earth -- a plunge that could take seven minutes. He will have parachutes to slow him down when he hits 5,000 feet or terminal velocity. Terminal velocity occurs when a falling body experiences zero acceleration – as he gets closer to Earth the atmosphere gets denser so he will slow down and there will be less friction on his spacesuit. Or so they hope

Dr. Jonathan Clark heads the medical team and ticks off the risks on his fingers: "If you are going to be above 50 thousand feet you wear a pressure suit, above 63 thousand feet the water in your body would start to boil and your body is 70 percent water."

If Baumgartner succeeds he will break the record set on Aug. 16, 1960, when Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger jumped from a balloon at an altitude of 102,900 feet. He fell for almost five minutes before opening a parachute to slow his decent at 18,000 feet. He made history for the highest balloon ascent, the highest parachute jump, and the fastest speed by a human being through the atmosphere.

And Kittinger is Baumgartner's coach for this jump -- happy, he says, to see someone finally break his record.

"There is a reason my record has stood for 52 years," Kittinger said. "This is a calculated risk, you understand the risks that you know about but there is always unknowns. The biggest unknown we face is that nobody has transited the sound barrier without the aid of an aircraft."

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