Sound barrier skydive called off
An Austrian daredevil called off his death-defying skydive from a balloon 23 miles (37 km) over the New Mexico desert today due to winds at the launch site.
Felix Baumgartner, a 43-year-old helicopter pilot, hot-air balloonist and professional skydiver, had been preparing to break a longstanding altitude record.
But his team announced the launch had been aborted moments before Baumgartner's balloon was set to carry him aloft over Roswell, New Mexico. "Mission aborted due to gusty winds," a statement on the website of sponsor Red Bull said.
It gave no details.
Winds on the ground into the southeastern New Mexico desert are still, but are in the high teens at about 700 feet, which is about the height of the top of the balloon that will lift him to altitude.
Baumgarterner’s team was earlier on hold, hoping the winds would die down in time to get the mission prepared and the helium balloon launched before the window for a high-altitude flight closes.
The Austrian (43) planned to take off in a 55-storey, ultra-thin and easy-to-tear helium balloon that will take him into the stratosphere for a jump that he hoped would make him the first skydiver to break the sound barrier and shatter three other world records.
After a nearly three-hour ascent to 36,576m, Baumgartner would have taken a bunny-style hop from a pressurised capsule into a near-vacuum where there is barely any oxygen to begin what was expected to be the fastest, farthest free fall from the highest-ever manned balloon.
But the former military parachutist could only make the jump if winds were no greater than 3kph. A cold front had already delayed the jump by one day, but his team was optimistic yesterday that a break before a second cold front is due to arrive on Thursday would give him the opportunity to complete his mission.
Among the risks are that any contact with the capsule exit could tear the pressurised suit. A rip could expose the jumper to a lack of oxygen and temperatures as low as 70 degrees below zero. It could cause potentially lethal bubbles to form in his bodily fluids, a condition known as “boiling blood”.
He could also spin out of control, causing other problems.
The energy drink maker Red Bull, which is sponsoring the feat, had nearly 30 cameras on the capsule, the ground and a helicopter. But organisers planned a 20-second delay in their broadcast of footage in case of a tragic accident.
While Baumgartner hoped to set four new world records, his free fall was more than just a stunt. His dive from the stratosphere had been expected to provide scientists with valuable information for next-generation spacesuits and techniques that could help astronauts survive accidents.
Jumping from more than three times the height of the average cruising altitude for jetliners, Baumgartner would have expected to hit a speed of 1,110kph or more before he activated his parachute at 2,895m above sea level, or about 1,524m above the ground in south-eastern New Mexico.