The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

October 14, 2012

Skydiver begins daring bid to break sound barrier

(Continued)

Kittinger told him, "Everything is in the green. Doing great."

If he succeeds in the death-defying feat, the man nicknamed "Fearless Felix" will break the 52-year-old altitude record by Kittinger, who reached a speed of 614 mph, just under the sound barrier.

This attempt also will be the end of a five-year road for Baumgartner, a record-setting high-altitude jumper. He already made two preparation jumps in the area, one in March from 15 miles high and on in July from 18 miles high. It will also be the end of his extreme altitude jumping career; he has promised this will be his final jump.

Coincidentally, Sunday also marks the 65th anniversary of U.S. test pilot Chuck Yeager successful attempt to become the first man to officially break the sound barrier aboard an airplane.

Dr. Jonathan Clark, Baumgartner's medical director, has told reporters he expects the pressurized spacesuit to protect him from the shock waves of breaking the sound barrier. If all goes well and he survives the jump, NASA could certify a new generation of spacesuits for protecting astronauts and provide an escape option from spacecraft at 120,000 feet, he said.

Winds had to be under 2 mph for Baumgartner to start his ascent to the stratosphere from this desert town better known as the site of a rumored UFO landing in 1947.

Jumping from more than three times the height of the average cruising altitude for jetliners, Baumgartner's expects to hit a speed of 690 mph or more before he activates his parachute at 9,500 feet above sea level, or about 5,000 feet above the ground in southeastern New Mexico. The total jump should take about 10 minutes.

The energy drink maker Red Bull, which is sponsoring the feat, has been promoting a live Internet stream of the event from nearly 30 cameras on the capsule, the ground and a helicopter. But organizers said there will be a 20-second delay in their broadcast of footage in case of a tragic accident.

After the jump, Baumgartner says he plans to settle down with his girlfriend and fly helicopters on mountain rescue and firefighting missions in the U.S. and Austria.

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