Skydiver begins prep for supersonic jump

Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner made final preparations Tuesday for a death-defying, 23-mile free fall into the southeastern New Mexico desert, hoping to become the first skydiver to break the sound barrier.
Associated Press Modified: October 9, 2012 at 12:25 pm •  Published: October 9, 2012
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"With these big moments, you get a kind of sense that the energy changes," he said Monday. "It really is just kind of a heightened energy. It keeps you on your toes. It's not nervousness, it's excitement."

During the ascent, Walshe said, the team will have views from a number of cameras, including one focused directly on Baumgartner's face. Additionally, they will have data from life support and other systems that show things like whether he is getting enough oxygen.

The team also expects constant communication with Baumgartner, although former Air Force Capt. Joe Kittinger, whose 1960 free-fall record from 19.5 miles Baumgartner hopes to break, is the only member of mission control who will be allowed to talk to him.

And while Baumgartner hopes to set four new world records, his free fall is more than just a stunt.

His dive from the stratosphere should provide scientists with valuable information for next-generation spacesuits and techniques that could help astronauts survive accidents.

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 above the ground in southeastern New Mexico. The total jump should take about 10 minutes.

His medical director is Dr. Jonathan Clark, a NASA space shuttle crew surgeon who lost his wife, Laurel Clark, in the 2003 Columbia accident. No one knows what happens to a body when it breaks the sound barrier, Clark said.

"That is really the scientific essence of this mission," said Clark, who is dedicated to improving astronauts' chances of survival in a high-altitude disaster.

Clark told reporters Monday he expects Baumgartner's 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.

Currently, spacesuits are certified to protect astronauts to 100,000 feet, the level Kittinger reached in 1960. Kittinger's speed of 614 mph was just shy of breaking the sound barrier at that altitude.

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Follow Jeri Clausing at http://twitter.com/jericlausing.



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