National Geographic News
Felix Baumgartner

Sky diver Felix Baumgartner free-falls toward New Mexico during test dive.

Photograph by Luke Aikins, Redbull Photofiles

By National Geographic News staff

Published October 14, 2012

Sixty-five years ago today Chuck Yeager piloted the Bell X-1 into history, becoming the first pilot to break the sound barrier. Today Felix Baumgartner may do the same—minus the plane.

The Austrian sky diver and pilot is set to step out of a pressurized capsule and free-fall 23 miles (37 kilometers) from the edge of space to the New Mexico desert. Watch live video coverage here, then tune in to the National Geographic Channel documentary Space Dive in November (date TBD).

Seven years in the making, the so-called Red Bull Stratos Mission to the Edge of Space is expected to break records as the highest, fastest, and longest-duration skydive.

Baumgartner's team estimates he will reach Mach 1.2—roughly 690 miles (1,110 kilometers) an hour—and free-fall for five and a half minutes before opening a parachute at 5,000 feet (1,524) to float him to the ground.

Originally scheduled for Monday but postponed due to projected high winds, the feat would make him the first human to break the sound barrier without the propulsion, or protection, of a vehicle.

The current free fall record is held by Joseph Kittinger, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and current Red Bull Stratos team member, who fell 19.5 miles (31.3 kilometers) on August 16, 1960. (See classic pictures of Kittinger's skydive.)

Kittinger, after years of refusing to help see his record broken, is now enthusiastically behind Baumgartner. "I felt that he was dedicated, that he was sincere. He's a trained athlete, he's an aviator." They have a special bond.

"I'll be the only one that knows exactly how Felix feels at that moment when he jumps from the step, 'cause I've done it," Kittinger says in Space Dive, a National Geographic Channel documentary to air in November.

Baumgartner agrees: "[Joe] knows how lonely you are at that altitude." In fact, Baumgartner will not allow any voice other than Kittinger's in his helmet, so that's how the scientific and medical team on the ground will communicate with him.  "It feels like, if Joe's there, nothing can go wrong."

But things can go wrong. Find out how: "Supersonic Skydive's Five Biggest Risks: Boiling Blood, Deadly Spins, and Worse" >>

More Supersonic Skydive Coverage

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