The balloon-borne capsule that will carry a daredevil into the stratosphere for a record-breaking attempt at a supersonic skydive is ready to go, the mission's team announced today (March 6).
The capsule, which will serve as skydiver Felix Baumgartner's life-support system during his ascent to 120,000 feet (36,576 meters), has passed a series of vital tests and been declared ready to fly, said officials with Red Bull Stratos, the name of Baumgartner's ambitious mission.
Baumgartner, a 42-year-old Austrian, aims to break four separate records when he steps out of the capsule into empty air on the so-called "space jump" later this year.
Just reaching an altitude of 120,000 feet alone would set a new record for the highest-ever manned balloon flight, Red Bull Stratos officials said.
Baumgartner also hopes to break the record for the world's highest skydive, which currently stands at 102,800 feet (31,333 m) — a benchmark set in 1960 — as well as the record for longest freefall (estimated to be about 5 minutes and 30 seconds from 120,000 feet). Finally, he hopes to become the first person to break the speed of sound during freefall.
The skydiver says he wants his mission to be about more than merely etching his name into the record books. [Photos: Supersonic Space Jump Training]
"This mission is all about pioneer work," Baumgartner said in a statement. "Maybe one day people will look back and say it was Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos team that helped to develop the suit that they're wearing in space. We want to do something for posterity."
The capsule, which took five years to develop, weighs 2,900 pounds (1,315 kilograms) fully loaded and measures 11 feet (3.4 m) high by 8 feet (2.4 m) wide at its base. It will hang about 150 feet (46 m) below a helium-filled balloon, suspended by a tether.
The capsule is enclosed and pressurized to protect Baumgartner from the thin air and extreme cold of the stratosphere, where temperatures can plunge to minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 57 degrees Celsius). The daredevil won't need to inflate his pressure suit until he's ready to jump.
The craft harbors a control panel with 89 switches, as well as one clear round door through which Baumgartner will exit 23 miles (37 kilometers) above Earth's surface.
Once Baumgartner steps through that door and is well on his record-breaking way, a remote triggering system will release the capsule from the balloon. The capsule will drift back down to Earth via parachute, where teams will recover it.
The Red Bull Stratos mission is slated to launch sometime this year from Roswell, N.M., with some media reports suggesting a possible attempt in August.
Baumgartner and his team had hoped to make the jump in 2010, but they were delayed by a legal challenge that claimed the idea of the dive was earlier suggested to Red Bull by California promoter Daniel Hogan. That suit has now been settled out of court, and the Red Bull Stratos project is moving forward.
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