Archived Story

Skydiver begins prep for supersonic jump

Published 11:39am Tuesday, October 9, 2012

ROSWELL, N.M. — A weather hold that threatened to cancel extreme athlete and skydiver Felix Baumgartner’s death-defying, 23-mile free fall into the southeastern New Mexico desert was lifted Tuesday morning and crews began laying out his balloon.

The planned early morning launch had been delayed by high winds. But just before 9 a.m., the winds calmed and the team decided to proceed with plans to make the flight, a process that would take about two hours.

The 43-year-old former military parachutist from Austria plans to take off in a 55-story, ultra-thin and easy-to-tear helium balloon that will take him into the stratosphere for the jump. He hopes it will make him the first skydiver to break the sound barrier and shatter three other world records.

Those plans were in question before sunrise, when winds at 700 feet above ground — the top of the balloon — were 20 mph, far above the 3 mph maximum for a safe launch, said mission meteorologist Don Day.

After sunrise, Day said there were indications the upper level winds might calm, so the team pushed the launch window from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., noon at the latest.

The balloon had been scheduled to launch about 7 a.m. from a field near the airport in a flat dusty town that until now has been best known for a rumored 1947 UFO landing.

If the mission goes, Baumgartner will make a nearly three-hour ascent to 120,000 feet, then take a bunny-style hop from a pressurized capsule into a near-vacuum where there is barely any oxygen to begin what is expected to be the fastest, farthest free fall from the highest-ever manned balloon.


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