On Tuesday, July 24, Austria's Felix Baumgartner will embark on a journey that could put him in Man of Steel territory. From 90 thousand feet above the Earth's surface, Baumgartner will willingly heave himself out of a balloon and travel back down to normalcy with the rest of us basement dwellers.
If all goes according to plan, he'll reach a maximum speed of 509 mph in 30 seconds — but Tuesday's jump is merely a warmup. In August, Baumgartner plans to take a dive from 120 thousand feet — almost 23 miles up, where the atmosphere gives way to outer space — and potentially reach supersonic speeds.
My personal height limit is the local Y's high dive; Baumgartner's ambitions are heroic, insane and incredibly dangerous.
"The pressure is huge, and we not only have to endure but excel," Baumgartner said. "We're excellently prepared, but it's never going to be a fun day. I'm risking my life, after all."
The ultimate goal, it seems (which thus far as taken five years to plan), is to convince Acrophobians that sitting eight or nine miles above the surface in an airplane is mere child's play.
In what is an ever bigger mind blower, Baumgartner isn't the first one to attempt such a Superman-esque feat. All the way back on August 16, 1960, Joe Kittinger jumped from 102,900 feet — that's almost five minutes of straight falling — and lived to tell about it.
According to the source video on ABCNews, pressurization in Kittinger's right glove malfunctioned, leading his right hand to swell up to twice normal size. If something similar occurs with Baumgarnter's suit, his blood could boil, and he could pass out; Not something you want to do when you're going 690 mph during next month's jump.
There are a list of other dangers as well, according to Dr. Jonathan Clark, former NASA flight surgeon: the near-vacuum of space, extreme cold, temperature fluctuations, the danger of an uncontrolled flat spin, drogue chute failure, spacesuit puncture, life support systems failure.
Baumergarnter successfully completed a jump from 71,000 feet in March, and tomorrow's attempt is just another notch in his overall objective to break records: First person to break the sound barrier outside of an aircraft; record for freefall from the highest altitude; longest freefall time; highest manned balloon flight.
I'm getting vertigo just thinking about Tuesday's jump.
Update: Due to inclement weather, the jump has been postponed until Wednesday; Weather permitting, the jump will then go ahead. You can follow the status, which has been dubbed Stratos, via the mission's Twitter.