ROSWELL, N.M. – Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner made final preparations Tuesday for a death-defying, 23-mile free fall into the New Mexico desert, hoping to become the first skydiver to break the sound barrier.
Shortly before 2 p.m. Tuesday (Fort Wayne time), he called a halt to the jump.
The planned early morning launch had been delayed by high winds. But shortly before 11 a.m. MDT, the 43-year-old former military parachutist from Austria entered his capsule. Crews began the hour-long process of inflating the 55-story, ultra-thin and easy-to-tear helium balloon that was to take him into the stratosphere for the jump.
The balloon had been scheduled to launch about 7 a.m. from a field near the airport in a flat dusty town that is best known for a rumored 1947 UFO landing.
Baumgartner was to 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.
Baumgartner spent Monday at his hotel, mentally preparing for the dangerous feat with his parents, girlfriend and a few close friends, his team said. He had a light dinner of salmon and a salad, and then had a massage. He spent Tuesday morning resting in an Airstream trailer near the launch site.
Among the risks: Any contact with the capsule on his exit could tear the pressurized suit. A rip could expose him to a lack of oxygen and temperatures as low as 70 degrees below zero. It could cause potentially lethal bubbles to form in his bodily fluids, a condition known as “boiling blood.”
He could also have spun out of control, causing other risky problems.
Baumgartner made two practice jumps, one from 15 miles in March and another from 18 miles in July.
Jumping from more than three times the height of the average cruising altitude for jetliners, Baumgartner’s would have hit a speed of 690 mph or more before he activated his parachute at 9,500 feet above sea level, or about 5,000 above the ground in southeastern New Mexico. The total jump would have taken 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.
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