Arts, Culture & Media

Baumgartner's Jump and Other Skydiving Daredevils


Skydiver Felix Baumgartner seen during an attempt to freefall across English Channel in 2003. (Photo: REUTERS/Helmut Tucek)

The World's Marco Werman reflects on the high altitude skydive being attempted by Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner and then recalls the previous record holder's near disastrous attempt 50 years ago.

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Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian, is going to try to break the world height record for skydiving this coming Sunday or Monday.

He'll rise up into the sky in a balloon…to 23 miles high. 23 miles!

That's the edge of space. And then he'll jump out of the gondola.

As you probably heard, Baumgartner was going to try earlier this week, but heavy winds made him scrub his mission.

So, earlier Friday I was looking at the Red Bull web site. Red Bull is sponsoring Baumgartner's jump.

And they point out that Baumgartner and his team have gone over all the possibilities of what could go wrong.

What could go wrong? Well, plenty.

Another web site I was checking out had a story by an aerospace historian named Gregory Kennedy. And this tale will give you white knuckles.

It was about Joseph Kittinger. He's the Air Force pilot who holds the current height record for skydiving.

102,800 feet, set in 1960.

But leading up to that record-setting jump, Kittinger attempted two other lower-altitude jumps. The first jump was a whole bowl of wrong.

When he jumped at 76,000 some odd feet, Kittinger accidentally released the pilot chute.

If you've seen a parachute, there's a tiny chute – or pilot chute – that draws the larger parachute out of its pack. So with Kittinger, that pilot chute way up there in the thin air at 76,000 feet, all it does is flap around in the wind.

Then wraps around Kittinger's neck, and starts spinning him around like mad.

Then he blacks out.

Yes, he falls unconscious at somewhere above 50,000 feet.

And doesn't come to until he's a 1,000 feet above the ground.

Shakes himself to, and gets out the main parachute just in time.

Felix Baumgartner knows that story well … Kittinger is an adviser on his team.

And if you want to see how Baumgartner's upcoming jump goes, he'll have cameras strapped all over his body so you can watch the 23 mile freefall.