Skydiver’s supersonic jump on weather hold

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ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) - Plans for extreme athlete and skydiver Felix Baumgartner to make a death-defying, 23-mile free fall into the southeastern New Mexico desert were on hold Tuesday morning because of winds, but his team was still hoping the weather would clear in time to make the jump.

The 43-year-old former military parachutist from Austria planned to take off in a 55-story, ultra-thin and easy-to-tear helium balloon that would take him into the stratosphere for a jump that he hopes will make him the first skydiver to break the sound barrier and shatter three other world records.

Mission meteorologist Don Day said winds on the ground were an ideal 1 to 2 mph, but were 20 mph at the balloon-top level of 700 feet before sunrise.

“We need 3 mph or less at 800 feet,” Day said, putting the chance of a launch Tuesday at “50-50.”

After sunrise, Day said there were indications the upper level winds might calm, so the team pushed the launch window from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., noon at the latest. A final decision would have to be made about 9:30 as it takes about an hour and half to fill the balloon and get Baumgartner suited up and ready.

“We are going to stick it out for another couple of hours,” he said, adding, “We’ve got everyone here. We are going to wait and see if we can take advantage of it.”

If the launch, already delayed one day by a cold front, can’t go Tuesday, Day said the next try probably wouldn’t be until Thursday. In addition to the wind, he said, the team was having some issues with the GPS system.

The balloon had been scheduled to launch about 7 a.m. from a field near the airport in a flat dusty town that until now has been best known for a rumored 1947 UFO landing.

If the mission goes, Baumgartner will make a nearly three-hour ascent to 120,000 feet, then take a bunny-style hop from a pressurized capsule into a near-vacuum where there is barely any oxygen to begin what is expected to be the fastest, farthest free fall from the highest-ever manned balloon.

Baumgartner spent Monday at his hotel, mentally preparing for the dangerous feat with his parents, girlfriend and four close friends, his team said. He had a light dinner of salmon and a salad, then had a massage. He spent Tuesday morning resting in an Airstream trailer near the launch site.

Among the risks: Any contact with the capsule on his exit could tear the pressurized suit. A rip could expose him to a lack of oxygen and temperatures as low as 70 degrees below zero. It could cause potentially lethal bubbles to form in his bodily fluids, a condition known as “boiling blood.”

He could also spin out of control, causing other risky problems.

The energy drink maker Red Bull, which is sponsoring the feat, has been promoting a live Internet stream of the event at http://www.redbullstratos.com/live from nearly 30 cameras on the capsule, the ground and a helicopter. But organizers said there will be a 20-second delay in their broadcast of footage in case of a tragic accident.

Despite the dangers and questionable wind forecast, high performance director Andy Walshe said the team was excited, not nervous. Baumgartner has made two practice jumps, one from 15 miles in March and another from 18 miles in July.

“With these big moments, you get a kind of sense that the energy changes,” he said Monday. “It really is just kind of a heightened energy. It keeps you on your toes. It’s not nervousness, it’s excitement.”

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