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Austrian skydiver attempts record-breaking freefall

In a skydive set to start 23 miles (37 km) up and end in the desert of New Mexico, an Austrian man is hoping to break a freefall record that has stood for over 50 years. An attempt on Tuesday was abandoned.

epa03317693 Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria steps out from the capsule during the second manned test flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico, USA on 25 July 2012. Red Bull Stratos is a mission to the edge of space to an altitude of 37.000 meters to break several records including the sound of speed in freefall. EPA/JAY NEMETH / GLOBALNEWSROOM / HANDOUT NOT FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Testflug Red Bull Stratos Felix Baumgartner Roswell, New Mexico

Felix Baumgartner is an experienced pilot and professional skydiver, but his latest jump is looking to be his biggest - and potentially, the most dangerous.

Baumgartner and his team will start by launching a very thin and very large helium balloon from the ground near Roswell, New Mexico on Tuesday. The launch can only be carried out if there is next to no wind.

If the launch is successful, the balloon will carry a capsule - and Baumgartner - up to a height of 120,000 feet (36,576 meters), taking up to three hours for the journey.

At that altitude, there will be little air pressure to provide any resistance as Baumgartner falls. For this reason, the team of scientists associated with the jump believe he will break the sound barrier of 690 mph (1,110 kph) after about 35 seconds.

The high altitude means Baumgartner is also at risk for a number of oxygen related problems. He'll be wearing a specially designed spacesuit that protects against the low pressure and low air temperature. Any exposure could harm Baumgartner's body. The lack of air pressure can cause bodily fluids to instantly turn to a gas.

Another risk is that Baumgartner exits the capsule in a way that propels him into a tailspin that could render him unconscious.

However, if all goes according to plan, Baumgartner will rocket through the stratosphere for over five minutes before deploying a parachute at around 5,000 feet.

Retired US Air Force Colonel Joseph Kittinger is one of the men on Baumgartner's support team for the jump, which is sponsored by Red Bull. Kittinger set the current freefall record in 1960 from an altitude of 102,800 feet.

"Man is always inquisitive, and always wants to go faster, higher, lower, deeper - that's part of the challenge of human beings," the 83-year-old Kittinger said ahead of the jump. "We always like to push the envelope."

The Red Bull Stratos mission will be streamed live online, making use of cameras attached to Baumgartner's suit. Scientists will hope to learn more about equipment and procedures for high-altitude environments.

Baumgartner was expected to make his dive on Tuesday, but due to winds over New Mexico it was called off.

mz/jm (Reuters, AFP)