'Space diver' to attempt first supersonic freefall

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London, January 23 (ANI): Reports indicate that a "space diver" will try to smash the nearly 50-year-old record for the highest jump this year, becoming the first person to go supersonic in freefall.

On 16 August 1960, US Air Force Captain Joe Kittinger made history by jumping out of a balloon at an altitude of some 31,333 metres.

Since then, many have tried to break that record but none have succeeded.

Now, according to a report in New Scientist, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner has announced he will make the attempt, with help from Kittinger and sponsorship from the energy drink company Red Bull.

Baumgartner, who became the first person to cross the English Channel in freefall in 2003, will be lofted to a height of 36, 575 metres in a helium balloon.

After floating up for roughly three hours, he will open the door of a 1-tonne pressurised capsule, grab the handrails on either side of the exit, and step off, potentially breaking records for the highest parachute jump, as well as the fastest and longest freefall.

He should reach supersonic speeds 35 seconds after he jumps, and the resulting shock wave "is a big concern", according to the project's technical director, Art Thompson.

After falling for about six minutes, Baumgartner should open his parachute at roughly 1520 metres.

The jump height is above a threshold at 19,000 metres called the Armstrong line, where the atmospheric pressure is so low that fluids start to boil.

To protect himself, Baumgartner will wear a more flexible version of the airtight, pressurised spacesuit currently used aboard the space shuttle, which will let him bend to achieve the standard, belly-down skydiving position needed to decelerate.

Another concern is uncontrolled spin, which could knock him unconscious.

Sensors all over the suit will constantly monitor his acceleration for signs of spinning, as well as checking on his heart rate and position, relaying data to the ground team via a radio in a pack mounted on his chest.

If needed, a drogue parachute can be deployed to stabilise his flight.

Two practice flights will be conducted at about 20,000 and 27,000 metres.

Currently, Baumgartner is undergoing rigorous tests in the suit at extreme cold, in vacuum chambers and in vertical wind tunnels to simulate falling. (ANI)

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