Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner canceled his planned death-defying 23-mile free fall Tuesday because of high winds, the second time this week he was forced to postpone his quest to become the world’s first supersonic skydiver.
Baumgartner was planning to ascend to 120,000 feet -- nearly 23 miles, or 36 km -- in a capsule taken up to the edge of the stratosphere by a gigantic helium balloon, before stepping out in a pressurized suit to fall back to earth.
Baumgartner’s team said he has a second balloon and intends to try again, possibly on Thursday.
MBC ACTION, the MBC Group’s action-packed channel that targets young Arabs, was supposed to broadcast live the event, which is considered the world’s most dangerous and complicated free fall jump in the history of mankind.
MBC ACTION will be the only TV channel in the Middle East and North Africa region (and one of 4 channels in the world) to have been granted the rights for a live broadcast. The live coverage will start at 14:30 KSA (1130 GMT).
The jump was initially due to take place Monday morning, but was delayed by 24 hours due to weather.
The 43-year-old has been training for five years for the jump, during which he will be in free fall for some five minutes before opening a parachute at 5,000 feet up to float back to the ground.
The biggest danger he faces is spinning out of control, which could exert G forces and make him lose consciousness -- a controlled dive from the capsule is essential, putting him in a head-down position to increase speed.
“Fear has become a friend of mine. It’s what prevents me from stepping too far over the line. On a mission like this, you need to be mentally fit and have total control over what you do, and I’m preparing very thoroughly,” Baumgartner said in an interview with Red Bull Stratos.
He hopes to set a number of records: the first man to break the speed of sound, around 690 mph; the highest ever jump -- over three times the average airliner cruising altitude -- and the fastest speed in free fall.
“I have to get myself into a stable position before I reach the speed of sound,” Baumgartner said.
The daredevil has succeeded in BASE jumps from some of the world’s most iconic locations, such as Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which stands at a total of 49.1 meters high and Taipei Tower 101 in Taiwan at 508 meters.
“With all my experience in the air that shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but in order to stabilize my body I need wind resistance. The problem is that for around 30 seconds I will have no air cushion whatsoever, meaning that I won’t be able to control the way my body spins. However, in the tests we have done so far I have always been able to stabilize myself pretty quickly as soon as there was enough air to do so,” he said.
The Red Bull Stratos mission, backed by a 100-strong team of experts and centered on the launch site in Roswell, New Mexico, also hopes to contribute to medical and aeronautical research.
“We’ll be setting new standards for aviation. Never before has anyone reached the speed of sound without being in an aircraft,” said medical director Dr. Jonathan Clark, who was the crew surgeon for six Space Shuttle flights.
The mission will test “new equipment and developing the procedures for inhabiting such high altitudes as well as enduring such extreme acceleration,” to improve safety for astronauts but also potential space tourists, he added.
“One of the unknowns is how a human body will react approaching supersonic speeds. The effects of the transition to supersonic velocity and back again are not known. This is just one of the things we hope to learn. Maybe one day it will be possible to bring astronauts home safely from space if their spacecraft malfunctions. It sounds like a sci-fi scenario, but aeronautics is definitely moving in that direction. So data showing how my body responds throughout the mission will be valuable information for researchers,” he said.
The pod-like space capsule that will take Baumgartner to the edge of space is to be hoisted aloft by a giant helium-filled balloon -- taller than the Eiffel Tower when fully inflated on Tuesday.
The ascent is expected to take between 2-3 hours. The descent, if all goes well, will take about 15 to 20 minutes -- five minutes or so in free fall, and 10 to 15 floating down with his parachute, hopefully to a soft landing.
The flight will also be streamed live on the mission’s website -- www.redbullstratos.com -- with more than 35 cameras on the ground and in the air, including on Baumgartner’s suit.