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Air & Space

Felix Baumgartner hopes to go supersonic on Sunday

  • Felix Baumgartner prejump.jpg

    July 25, 2012: Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria celebrates after he lands at the desert during the second manned test flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico. ( / Red Bull)

  • breathing-ready.JPG

    Oct. 9, 2012: Daredevil skydiver Felix Baumgartner spends around 1 hour and 30 minutes "pre-breathing" before take off, according to a post on the Red Bull Stratos Twitter feed. (Red Bull)

  • Supersonic Skydiver Kittinger.jpg

    Nov. 16, 1959: Capt. Joseph Kittinger Jr., aerospace laboratory test director, sits in the open balloon gondola after his first parachute test jump for Project Excelsior at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, N.M. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force)

  • Supersonic Skydiver Kittinger 2.jpg

    Nov. 16, 1959: Capt. Joseph Kittinger Jr. waits in the open balloon gondola, right, while the two million cubic-foot polyethylene balloons are filled with helium for the Excelsior I test jump at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force)

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.

'When you close your visor, it's your own little world. You don't hear anything from the outside anymore.'

- Felix Baumgartner

A brief comparison of the two men and their endeavors:

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.


Felix Baumgartner will attempt to make history Sunday morning with the world's fastest and highest free fall, from the world's biggest manned balloon. 

Here's where to learn more about his mission, and the earlier record set by Joe Kittinger.

Red Bull Stratos

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

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.