Maggie: They call him Fearless Felix. And after his 18-mile-high skydive back in July, it’s pretty obvious why. During that plummet, Austrian Skydiver Felix Baumgartner reached speeds of 536 miles per hour. Today, if all goes as planned, Felix will fall even faster from an even higher height. He is scheduled to leap from the edge of the earth’s stratosphere, a record 120,000 feet, or 23 miles, above the ground.
Felix: I know I’m ready for that because I have been training the last five years.
Maggie: To reach those heights, Felix is taking a three-hour journey in a capsule lifted by a helium balloon 55 stories tall and as wide as a football field. Temperatures outside will be as low as 70-degrees below zero, so Felix needs to wear a pressurized suit and an oxygen mask. He will be in free fall for five minutes before his parachute opens. With top speeds of 700 miles per hour or more, Fearless Felix could become the first human to free fall faster than the speed of sound.
Down here, sound waves travel at around 760 miles per hour, but they travel slower at higher altitudes. When something travels faster than the speed of sound, it breaks the sound barrier causing a booming noise. Now, you may have heard a sonic boom from a jet flying overhead, but the boom can also be heard by the crack of a whip. The crack is the tip of the whip traveling faster than the speed of sound.
Joe Kittinger: I’m the only person in the world that knows what Felix is going through.
Maggie: Joe Kittinger has held the sky dive record since 1960, when the Air Force captain jumped from nineteen miles up. Now 84, he’s helping Felix break his record.
Joe: There have been a lot of improvements made in 52 years. And we have better suits and better equipment, but the danger is still there. That hasn’t changed a bit.
Maggie: NASA and the U.S. Air Force are monitoring today’s jump to learn more about high altitudes’ limits on the human body. Information from Felix’s free fall could help improve emergency procedures for pilots flying near space’s border.
Felix: This is a step into the unknown. That’s why I’m nervous.
Maggie: Nervous, but still fearless!
Maggie Rulli, Channel One News.