ROSWELL, N.M. – The advice from master to student over the past three years has been simple: Be prepared. Know what to do and how to do it.
"Fearless Felix" Baumgartner has heeded Joe Kittinger's advice and now is about to test it. On Sunday morning if winds allow, in the desert surrounding Roswell, N.M., Baumgartner will attempt to break Kittinger's world record for the highest and fastest free fall.
Baumgartner is aiming for an altitude of 23 miles, just over three miles higher than Kittinger attained in 1960. And he hopes to break the sound barrier; Kittinger fell just shy of that.
A brief comparison of the two men and their endeavors:
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Baumgartner is 43 and a former Austrian military parachutist with more than 2,500 jumps behind him.
Kittinger was 32 and a captain in the U.S. Air Force. He's now 84 and living near Orlando, Fla. His record jump was his 33rd skydive. "He has considerably more experience than I had," Kittinger says.
Baumgartner is aiming to jump from 120,000 feet, or 23 miles. Kittinger plunged from 102,800 feet, or 19.5 miles.
Baumgartner expects to accelerate to 690 mph in order to break the sound barrier, or Mach 1, somewhere between 102,000 feet and 107,000 feet up. Kittinger was clocked at a maximum 614 mph, equivalent at that altitude to Mach 0.9.
Baumgartner will ascend in a pressurized capsule hoisted by a 30 million-cubic-foot helium balloon, 335 feet tall when inflated. Kittinger rode an open, unpressurized gondola that was lifted by a 3 million-cubic-foot balloon, 184 feet tall when inflated.
Baumgartner will wear a custom-made full-pressure suit. Kittinger wore an Air Force standard partial-pressure suit. He was initially claustrophobic in his suit and had counseling to overcome his anxiety.
He's now comfortable in the suit for five to six hours at a stretch and more.
"When you close your visor, it's your own little world. You don't hear anything from the outside anymore. The only thing that you hear is yourself breathing all the time. Then you start thinking about bad things and it's getting worse in a very short amount of time," Baumgartner says. "Your brain sometimes does fancy things."
Kittinger, by contrast, was a test pilot and used to pressure suits. In 1972, his fighter jet was shot down and he ended up a Vietnam POW, surviving 11 months of torture at the "Hanoi Hilton" prison. In the next cell was Sen. John McCain.
Kittinger's Project Excelsior was Air Force. Baumgartner's Red Bull Stratos effort is sponsored by the energy drink maker.
Both men had two test jumps before the grand finale.