Photograph by Luke Aikins, Redbull Photofiles
Published October 14, 2012
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
On TV: U.S. Exclusive
Coming in November: Watch never before seen, exclusive footage of Felix Baumgartner's skydive on the National Geographic Channel.
Neglect, fear of Islamic State radicals, and conflicts born of ancient animosities are conspiring against a deteriorating synagogue and the tomb of Nahum.
Explore one of the world's weirdest farms, where divers don flippers and scuba gear to tend their fields: massive underwater spheres housing thousands of fish.
For low-lying islands, what's needed is less alarmism, more planning.
The Future of Food
How do we feed nine billion people by 2050, and how do we do so sustainably?
We've made our magazine's best stories about the future of food available in a free iPad app.