Austrian daredevil begins ascent in space jump bid

Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner lifted off from the New Mexico desert on Sunday in his second attempt to make a record-breaking jump from the edge of space.

Baumgartner was to be transported up to 23 miles (37 kilometers) above the Earth by an enormous balloon, before launching himself into the void, aiming to become the first human to break the sound barrier in freefall.

The capsule rose into the clear blue sky, with organizers holding their breath for the first few thousand feet of ascent, as Baumgartner, 43, would not have had enough time to escape had there been a problem.

But some 10 minutes into flight the balloon -- whose progress was streamed live by cameras on the ground and around the capsule itself -- was rising at around 1,200 feet per minute, according to mission control.

The Red Bull Stratos mission launch was the second effort by the 43-year-old skydiver, following an initial bid last week that was aborted at the last minute due to winds.

The giant balloon -- which holds 30 million cubic feet of helium -- is needed to carry the Red Bull Stratos capsule, which weighs nearly 1.3 tons, to the stratosphere.

It is made of near transparent polyethylene strips about the same thickness as a dry cleaner bag, which are heat-sealed together. Very thin material is necessary to save weight.

The biggest risk Baumgartner 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.

More worrying is the prospect that the skydiver's blood could boil if there were the slightest tear or crack in his pressurized spacesuit-like outfit, due to instant depressurization at extreme altitude.

Temperatures of 90 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 68 Celsius) could also have unpredictable consequences if his suit somehow fails.

by Michael Thurston © 2012 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Oct 14, 2012