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Australian Man Plans Highest Skydive Ever

Breaking the sound barrier—going past the speed of sound—shouldn't be a big deal anymore. After all, military aircraft go supersonic all the time. But try it without any sort of vehicle around you, and it just might put you in the record books.

That's what Australian Rodd Millner is hoping to do when he rides a balloon to the edge of outerspace, 25 miles up, and jumps.

If the ex-commando succeeds, he will not only become the fastest man to break the sound barrier unaided, he will have made the highest skydive ever, had the longest free-fall, and be the highest-flying balloonist ever to survive.

Breaking the Sound Barrier, in a Space Suit

When Millner jumps, he will fall at speeds up to 1,100-miles-an-hour, or about Mach 1.4 during a seven-minute freefall. It will have taken him two-and-a-half hours to reach 130,000 feet, but only 10 minutes to parachute to earth if you include the part where his parachute opens.

Special forces units also practice high altitude parachuting, but usually at a height that's a third of what Millner will attempt.

It isn't even known if the human body is capable of surviving such a descent, but Millner says he has help from the Australian Defense Force Academy. Millions of dollars had already been invested in the project, said Project Director Walt Missingham.

A special high-altitude helium balloon from the academy, big enough to fit two jumbo jets side by side, will carry Millner into space. The Australian will be dressed like an astronaut to protect his body from extreme pressures during his jump.

For the Sake of Research—and Pride

Millner calls his project "extreme science" and says it may be a boon to space exploration. He will be filmed and his body monitored by a medical team to gain scientific information on the pressures to the human body in such a fall.

Astronauts already carry a special parachute for jumping at a high altitude, but it remains untested.

When Millner jumps in March 2002, he will take off from Alice Springs, in the center of Australia. His landing zone will be in the desert within a 30 mile radius of the takeoff point.

Millner also told Australia's Daily Telegraph he intended to do the jump because, "well, there are no more mountains to climb, the seas have been done, so it's time to go straight up."

But even that category may have its placeholders sooner than Millner thinks—a high altitude sky-diving team in the United States hopes to attempt a similar jump this year.