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This Doesn’t Seem Like a Great Idea

Thursday, January 28, 2010, 23:24 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Then again, God didn’t give everyone the gift of common sense.

For years, Felix Baumgartner has taken to the skies in a way most of us can only hope to emulate in an aeroplane. From skydiving to base-jumping, his endeavours have thrilled onlookers and frequently enraged the authorities. But like most extreme athletes, Baumgartner has always been on the lookout for the ultimate rush – and now, it appears, he has found it.

His goal, which he hopes to achieve this year, is to make the highest ever parachute jump. It will be from well into the stratosphere. It will mean breaking the speed of sound. And, if it succeeds, it will break a record that has stood for 50 years.

[ . . . ]

The attempt is planned for an as-yet unnamed location in North America. Dressed in a specially modified full pressure suit and helmet, he will ascend to the stratosphere in a pressurised capsule attached to a 450-foot high helium filled balloon. He then intends to jump out at an altitude he hopes will exceed 120,000 feet, or nearly 23 miles, and make a descent lasting over five minutes. Scientists say he will almost certainly break the sound barrier during his free fall and become the first human to do so without the aid of a machine.

Baumgartner views his forthcoming attempt with a mixture of excitement and adrenalin-fuelled apprehension. “No one really knows what that will be like,” he says. “The fact is that you have a lot of different air flows coming around your body. Some parts of you body are in supersonic flow and some parts are in transonic flow. What kind of reaction that creates, I can’t tell you.”

It looks like he will find out, but whether he will be able to tell us is still up in the air (ugh, bad pun).

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