An Austrian daredevil was forced to cancel his record breaking attempt to jump from the edge of space at the last minute due to high winds.
Skydiver Felix Baumgartner hoped to hurtle toward Earth at supersonic speed from a record 23 miles (37 kilometres) up, breaking the sound barrier with only his body. He made it more than halfway there during a critical dress rehearsal, ascending from the New Mexico desert in a helium balloon and jumping from more than 13 miles (21 kilometres) up.
Baumgartner's 100-foot helium balloon and pressurized capsule lifted off from Roswell, New Mexico. He jumped at 71,581 feet - 13.6 miles (21.9 kilometres) - and landed safely eight minutes and eight seconds later, according to spokeswoman Trish Medalen. He reached speeds of up to 364.4 mph (586.42 kph) and was in free fall for three minutes and 43 seconds, before pulling his parachute cords.
"The view is amazing, way better than I thought," Baumgartner said after the practice jump. Commercial jets generally cruise at just over 30,000 feet (10 kilometres).
After one more trial run, he'll attempt 120,000 feet, or 22.8 miles (36.7 kilometres). The launch window opens in July and extends until the beginning of October; it's based on optimal weather at the Roswell site
Baumgartner tested the same pressurized capsule and full-pressure suit that he will use in a few months for a record-setting free fall from 120,000 feet. The extra protection is needed because there's virtually no atmosphere at such heights.
NASA engineers working on astronaut escape systems for future spacecraft have their eyes on this Austrian skydiver known as "Fearless Felix." "Keep in mind that at 120,000 feet ... there is no atmosphere to sustain human life," said Dustin Gohmert, manager of NASA's crew survival engineering office at Johnson Space Centre in Houston. "To the body, it's no different than being in deep space, save from possibly more radiation shielding from the little atmosphere you have. You need the full protection of the pressure suit."
Baumgartner is believed to be only the third person to leap from such a high altitude and free fall to a safe landing - and the first to do so in 50 years. The record is Air Force test pilot Joe Kittinger's jump from 102,800 feet - 19.5 miles (31.3 kilometres) - in 1960. Kittinger was in free fall for four minutes, 36 seconds, and accelerated to 614 mph (988 kph), equivalent to Mach 0.9, just shy of the sound barrier. For his grand finale, Baumgartner expects to be in free fall for five minutes, 35 seconds, and achieve Mach 1, or 690 mph (1110 kph). All told, the descent should take 15 to 20 minutes.
He's also leapt face-first into a pitch-dark, 620-foot-deep cave in Croatia - his most dangerous feat yet, he says.
He celebrates upon landing in Calais on 31 July 2000
The balloon had been described as a "40 acre dry cleaner bag" because of the area the material would cover if laid flat. It was made of a very delicate, ultra-thin plastic making it susceptible to damage. Winds had reached about 17mph when the launch was called off. A statement from Baumgartner's team said: "The balloon inflation had begun, and then gusty winds picked up and made a launch impossible."
Baumgartner, a former military parachutist who has spent five years preparing for the jump, looked disappointed and shook his head after lifting his helmet visor. Following the attempt, he wrote on Twitter: "It's all about what we do now and accomplish now. We've made it so far, there's no way turning back."
He is hoping to break records for the highest and fastest skydive, reaching a speed of around 700mph. The current records have stood since 1960 when Joe Kittinger, a US Air Force captain, survived a jump from 19.5 miles and reached a speed of 614mph. The death-defying stunt, which will also bring Baumgartner another record for the highest manned balloon flight, is being sponsored by energy drink maker Red Bull. It is also intended to provide scientific data to help with the development of pressure suits.