The man who fell to earth: jumper plans skydive from edge of space
IT is the ultimate parachute jump: from the edge of space, Felix Baumgartner will leap from a balloon and plummet 120,000ft.
After 35 seconds he will break the sound barrier, and finally, at 5,000ft, he will deploy a parachute and -- hopefully -- land safely.
During his 10-minute journey to earth, the Austrian will travel at more than 690mph inside a special suit, which must protect him from temperatures as low as -60C.
He will rely on oxygen tanks because the air will be too thin to breathe, and hope that the sheer force of the fall does not make him black out.
His team will announce this week that an attempt to make the record-breaking jump will take place in August above New Mexico.
Mr Baumgartner, who in 2003 became the first person to 'skydive' across the English Channel, will undertake two test jumps at 60,000ft and 90,000ft in the coming months.
Speaking about being given the chance to make the jump, he said: "I am struggling to find the right words to express my happiness, how relieved and motivated I am."
Mr Baumgartner said he hoped the stunt would provide valuable information on how humans will cope with space tourism and open up new types of extreme sports such as space diving.
He added: "I always feel the danger because you might always be subject to an unexpected or emergency event.
"One single mistake might cause a real catastrophe. You are worried about being where humans shouldn't be.
"The longest time I've spent inside the suit with the front part of the helmet closed is three hours, and, to be honest, it was horrible.
"To jump and break the sound barrier will not be a mere record-breaking experience. . . It will simulate the first human landing on the moon, and will benefit scientific research."
Mr Baumgartner, who has also 'base jumped' (parachuted from low altitudes) off the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, is hoping to beat a record held for 50 years by Joe Kittinger, a US air force colonel who jumped from 102,800ft in 1960.
The skydive, which is being sponsored by the energy drink Red Bull, would break four world records: the highest altitude freefall, the highest manned balloon flight, the longest distance travelled in freefall and the speed record for the fastest freefall.
Mr Baumgartner, a helicopter pilot when he is not skydiving, will travel into the stratosphere in a specially adapted scientific weather balloon. The giant helium balloon, which will inflate to a diameter of around 400ft, will take three hours to carry a pressurised capsule to 120,000ft: nearly 23 miles up. Commercial airliners typically cruise at between 30,000 and 39,000ft.
At 23 miles up, the air pressure is 1,000 times less than it is at sea level. A pressurised suit similar to those used by astronauts will protect him from the harsh environment.
Oxygen cylinders will supply him with 20 minutes of oxygen, more than enough for the 10-minute skydive. Once the balloon reaches its highest altitude, Mr Baumgartner will open the capsule, launching himself into the unknown.
After five minutes freefall, Baumgartner will open his parachute. Five minutes later, he will touch the earth.