Science & Environment

Skydiver Felix Baumgartner on track for super jump

Felix Baumgartner
Thursday's jump enabled Felix Baumgartner to test all his equipment before going even higher

Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner is well on the way to setting a world record for the highest free-fall jump.

On Thursday, the adventurer leapt from a balloon-borne capsule 71,500ft (22km) above New Mexico, landing safely eight minutes later.

The dive was intended to test all his equipment before he tries to free-fall from 120,000ft later this year.

In doing so, he would better the mark of 102,800ft set by US Air Force Colonel Joe Kittinger in 1960.

Even just Thursday's jump puts Baumgartner in a select group as only Kittinger and Russian Eugene Andreev have descended from higher.

Baumgartner, who is famous for stunts such as jumping off the Petronas Towers, is seen in the special pressure suit he must wear to stay alive in the thin air and extreme cold of the stratosphere.

HisRed Bull Stratosteam estimates he reached 364mph (586km/h) during the descent, and was in free fall for three minutes and 43 seconds before opening his parachute. From capsule to ground, the entire jump lasted eight minutes and eight seconds.

The 42-year-old was quoted afterwards as saying that the cold was hard to handle.

"I could hardly move my hands. We're going to have to do some work on that aspect," he said.

The Austrian also said the extraordinary dimensions of the high atmosphere took some getting used to: "I wanted to open the parachute after descending for a while but I noticed that I was still at an altitude of 50,000ft."

Felix Baumgartner
If all goes well, the 120,000ft jump will take place later in the year

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me onTwitter

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