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Austrian seeks to break highest free fall record

09 february 2012, 13:34
Austrian parachuter Felix Baumgartner. ©REUTERS/Str Old
Austrian parachuter Felix Baumgartner. ©REUTERS/Str Old
Austrian athlete Felix Baumgartner plans to try to break the world free fall record by jumping from a helium balloon nearly 37,000 meters (120,000 feet) off the ground, AFP reports.

He also hopes to become the first person to break the sound barrier without an aircraft, the organizers of the event announced.

"I like a challenge," Baumgartner said in a statement Tuesday.

Baumgartner's previous free fall ventures have included jumping from the top of the World Financial Center T101 in Taipei and from the Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Baumgartner, 41, plans to make the jump this year.

He is aiming at two other world records as well: the highest manned balloon flight and the free fall of longest duration, which is estimated at 5 minutes, 30 seconds.

The balloon is scheduled to take off when the weather allows it later this year from Roswell, New Mexico in the southwestern United States, where Baumgartner plans to land after deploying his parachute.

He is being financed in the world-record attempt by the Austrian beverage company Red Bull.

In a message posted Tuesday on their website, www.redbullstratos.com, the sponsors said that "after a successful leap into near-space, Felix and his team want to give the world information that will help put people safely in these hostile environments and rejuvenate the old space race spirit."

The Austrian athlete is expected to break the sound barrier of 690 mph at the upper reaches of his fall, where the air would be so thin it would create little resistance to his falling body.

As he approaches the surface of the earth, denser air is likely to slow his fall, according to the posting on the Red Bull website.

Jonathan Clark, the project's medical director, said the jump would explore the effects of acceleration to supersonic speed on the human body.

"Does a man without an aircraft have the ability to survive supersonic speeds?" the Red Bull statement said.

The current free fall record is held by former US Air Force Colonel Joe Kittinger, who jumped from 102,800 feet, or more than 19 miles high, in 1960 from the Excelsior III, a gondola lifted by helium balloons.

Kittinger has been hired as a special advisor and "mentor" for the flight by Baumgartner.

Red Bull said that as a scientific project, the jump "could start the new standard for protective space clothes or special parachutes designed for speeds over 700 mph (1.120 km/h)."

The experiment also might "benefit our military pilots who fly high altitude missions up to 80,000 feet and astronauts looking for a way to leave a broken spacecraft," the Red Bull statement said.

"Who knows how many people will visit space in the future as a tourist destination," the sponsors said.

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