Daredevil set to attempt record-breaking free-fall from 23 miles up
Felix Baumgartner on Sunday is expected to attempt to skydive 23 miles from the edge of space to earth — and in the process attempt to reach a free-fall speed in excess of the speed of sound. Both the height and the speed would break records.
Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner on Sunday will attempt a 23-mile free fall, with the hope of breaking the sound barrier.
He'll be descending from a height some three times higher than cruising altitude of most commercial airliners — scraping the edge of space.
What will he be facing? And what does falling feel like to the rest of us less-extreme athletes?
Jen Sharp, a skydiving instructor and co-founder of Female Skydiving Instructors, has jumped over 3,000 times — frequently with a novice strapped to her. Sharp said Baumgartner should have an absolutely incredible view as he falls to earth at, he hopes, speeds in excess of 690 mph.
"No matter how many times I get up in the air, it's just a beautiful place," Sharp said.
As Baumgartner falls, he'll be confronted with what's called the "distance illusion," Sharp said. Much like how a car on the horizon doesn't seem to ever get any closer, until you're practically on top of it, Sharp said Baumgartner won't notice his speed until he's nearly on the ground.
"The perception of free fall, we don't actually feel like we're falling because there's no acceleration, we're at a constant rate and, the ground is so far away — even at 10,000 feet, even at 6,000 feet — that you don't notice that you're moving toward it," she said. "You just feel like you're flying."
The key is to be ultra aware of what's going on, Sharp said, no matter how much you want to just lean back and take it in. The average free-fall lasts just 45 seconds, so too many distractions can quickly lead to a rushed landing.
"At 10,000 feet, everything looks small — including your problems. You just are, really, right in the moment," she said. "The wonderful thing is we can actually do that in our lives — sometimes we don't practice that. We're always looking at what just happened to us, and questioning the decisions we made, or looking ahead, planning ahead."
That's what skydivers who've been doing it for a long time really love, Sharp said. They're present in the moment, and totally focused, she said.
Sharp said in attempting to break the sound barrier, Baumgartner will be pushing the limits of his equipment.
"We really admire people who do that. We vicariously achieve through them and it's really fun to see something like that happen," she said.
Baumgartner has been trying to launch his attempt since Monday, but high winds and other adverse conditions have repeatedly thwarted him. Baumgartner will ride in a balloon up to almost 23 miles before jumping out of a capsule in a specially made pressurized suit.
He'll freefall until 1,500 feet where, if all goes well, his parachute will open and guide him to a safe landing.
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