Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner began his daring ascent to 23 miles above Earth on Sunday, hoping to complete a death-defying free fall that could make him the first skydiver to break the sound barrier.
Baumgartner took off in a pressurized capsule carried by a 55-story ultra-thin helium balloon that is expected to take nearly three hours to climb into the stratosphere. If plans go as expected, Baumgartner, in a high-tech suit, will then jump into a near vacuum with no oxygen to begin what is expected to be the fastest, farthest free fall from the highest-ever manned balloon.
Any contact with the capsule on his exit could tear the pressurized suit, a rip that could expose him to a lack of oxygen and temperatures as low as minus 70 degrees. That could cause potentially lethal bubbles to form in his bodily fluids
Coincidentally, Baumgartner’s attempted feat also marked the 65th anniversary of U.S. test pilot Chuck Yeager successful attempt to become the first man to officially break the sound barrier aboard an airplane.
At Baumgartner’s insistence, some 30 cameras recorded the event Sunday. While it had been pegged as a live broadcast, it was actually under a 20-second delay.
Shortly after launch, screens at mission control showed the capsule as it rose above 10,000 feet, high above the New Mexico desert as cheers erupted from organizers. Baumgartner also could be seen on video checking instruments inside the capsule.
Baumgartner’s team included Joe Kittinger, who first attempted to break the sound barrier from 19.5 miles in 1960. With Kittinger inside mission control Sunday, the two men could be heard going over technical details as the launch began.