Introducing Felix Baumgartner and the extreme sport of space jumps, sponsored by Red Bull.
After a few legal speed bumps along the way, plans are back on track for the Austrian daredevil to plunge 23 miles from the edge of space back to Earth this summer.
The jump will be the world's highest freefall, eclipsing a 52-year-old record set by U.S. Air Force Colonel Joe Kittinger. Baumgartner, 41, wants to become the first person to break the speed of sound without the protection of an aircraft while simultaneously collecting data never obtained before for the advancement of both medical science and space tourism.
Others like New Jersey native Nick Piantanida have tried and failed to beat Kittinger's record. Piantanida died attempting to set a new record in 1966.
Red Bull announced this week that after testing in an elaborate altitude (vacuum) chamber in Texas, the mission has moved on to a decisive phase in Roswell, New Mexico.
The incredible leap would be the latest in a series of record-breaking feats for the Austrian athlete. Baumgartner has completed record-breaking B.A.S.E. jumps across the globe from the World Financial Center T101 in Taipei to Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. The daredevil also became the first man to skydive across the English Chanel in 2003 using carbon wings attached to his body.
Records aside, jumping from the edge of space is an entirely different obstacle and, as Red Bull notes, a step into the unknown.
If it sounds dangerous, that's because it is.
In early aircraft development, they thought [exceeding the speed of sound] was a wall they couldn't pass without breaking apart, explained Art Thompson, the project's technical director, at a press briefing on Friday. In our case, the vehicle is flesh and blood, and he'll be exposed to some extreme forces.
If he opens up his face mask or the suit, all the gases in your body go out of suspension, so you literally turn into a giant fizzy, oozing fluid from your eyes and mouth, like something out of a horror film, Thomson continued. It's just seconds until death.
The idea has been five years in the making with a team of leading technicians and scientists from Lockheed and NASA developing the equipment and safety protocols necessary to ensure Baumgartner's safety.
If all goes as planned, Baumgartner will shatter no fewer than four records at the same time, including highest manned balloon flight (120,000 feet), highest skydive, longest freefall (roughly 5 min, 30 sec), and first to break the speed of sound during freefall.
To make the dive, the Austrian daredevil will ascend higher than four times the height of Mount Everest inside a custom-made pressurized capsule pulled up by a single helium-filled balloon about 600 feet wide. About 35 seconds after he jumps out, Baumgartner will reach supersonic speed and will continue the freefall until he is about one mile above ground, at which time he will deploy his parachute.
Mankind's physical limits will be newly defined on this mission, Red Bull said in a statement released Tuesday. The team aims to achieve advancements in medical science and contribute to the understanding of survival in space.
This mission is all about pioneer work, Baumgartner added. Maybe one day people will look back and say it was Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos team that helped to develop the suit that they're wearing in space. We want to do something for posterity.