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Would You Skydive From 22 Miles Up?

On Oct. 8, Felix Baumgartner is going to strap himself into a specially pressurized capsule, ascend 120,000 feet into the air above New Mexico using a helium balloon, open the door - and jump out.

Don't worry, he's been practicing.

Felix Baumgartner prepares to jump on March 15 from his special capsule above New Mexico.
Jay Nemeth/Red Bull Stratos / AP
Felix Baumgartner prepares to jump on March 15 from his special capsule above New Mexico.

Baumgartner wants to set the world record for the highest skydive ever performed, at more than 22 miles above the Earth's surface. Essentially, he's jumping from the stratosphere. You remember, of course, that Baumgartner must pass through two of Earth's five atmospheric layers to reach his ideal stepping off point, as this handy National Weather Service atmospheric chart explains.

Oh yes - on his way down, the Austrian pilot says he plans to break the sound barrier using only his body. According to NASA, this means he'll have to fall at the speed of 768 miles per hour (measured at sea level). If he breaks Mach 1, it's unclear whether Baumgarten will create a sonic boom.

Baumgartner has come close before. On July 25, he leapt out at 18 miles above the Earth and achieved a speed of 536 miles per hour on the way down - equalling a commercial passenger jet, as his website points out.

That jump was a test to make sure his protective suit and the capsule worked. The suit did, but the capsule was damaged on its return to the surface, and needed repair for next month's attempt. He also jumped from more than 71,000 feet last March.

His large support crew includes retired Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger, who still holds the world record as the highest skydiver. Kittinger set his record in 1960 by jumping out of a balloon at 102,800 feet. He's hoping Baumgartner will break it. The project is funded by Red Bull, maker of the energy drink.

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Korva Coleman is a newscaster for NPR.

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