A closer look at "Fearless Felix" and his free fall

(CBS News) Felix Baumgartner is called "Fearless Felix" for good reason.

If conditions allow it Tuesday morning, the Austrian daredevil will attempt the highest, fastest free fall ever. His goal is to break the speed of sound on his way down. Currently, the effort is hampered by high winds, but if they die down by noon Tuesday, the team will inflate the mammoth balloon that will lift Baumgartner to his historic leap of faith.

Felix Baumgartner set for jump from edge of space

For the last five years, Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull Stratos team have planned and trained for Tuesday morning's jump in Roswell, N.M.

The 43-year-old Austrian skydiver and base jumper will launch himself from out of this world: a free fall dive from Earth's stratosphere, 23 miles above New Mexico.

Baumgartner said, "Right now I'm really confident in my team. I'm confident in my management. And last but not least, I'm confident in myself."

Baumgartner will plunge further, and fall faster, than anyone in history. The daredevil described the jump this way: "I climb out and step off, and within the first 30 seconds I'm going to accelerate so fast that I'm going to break the speed of sound."

If he does, he says it will be the first time ever a human has done that in a free fall.

Baumgartner, in a pressurized suit, will rise in a capsule lifted by a helium balloon 55 stories tall at liftoff, three times bigger than any balloon ever used in a manned flight. The ascent will take two-and-a-half hours.

He'll jump from 120,000 feet or higher, where the air is so thin it's a vacuum with virtually no wind, water or oxygen. The temperature will be minus 70 degrees.

Within 35 seconds, his top speed is expected to approach 700 miles per hour, Mach 1.

Dr. Jonathan Clark, the mission's medical director, has monitored Baumgartner's practice jumps. The most recent, in July, was from 97,000 feet, 18 miles above earth. His top speed? 536 miles per hour.

Tuesday's leap will be further, faster, and uncharted territory for a human in free fall.

Clark said, "We're going to be higher. (There's) leaner air, less dense air, easier to get fast quick. I don't anticipate we'll have a problem but you know you don't know until you actually do it."

Baumgartner's trying to break the record set by a jump in August 1960. Air Force Capt. Joe Kittinger leapt from an open-air gondola basket that rose to 102,000 feet. He proved, in the early years of the space race, that humans could withstand the rigors of a high-altitude environment. Kittinger, now 84, has spent the last four years training Baumgartner for the jump.

Kittinger said, "I know exactly how he's feeling, what he's going through."

Asked if you could train anyone to do this, Kittinger said, "No, you couldn't. To find someone with the talent and skills Felix has is very unusual. He's the perfect person to do this jump."

Baumgartner's leap could set four records: the highest manned balloon flight, the highest free fall, the first supersonic speed in free fall, and the longest time spent in free fall - between five and six minutes.

Asked about the feat and if he's nervous, Baumgartner said, "Oh yeah, because this is a step into the unknown. Because at the very end of the day if something goes wrong I have to pay for it."

Whenever he does jump, if all goes well, Baumgartner should land about 15 minutes after he jumps, the final 10 minutes, and 5,000 feet, by parachute. The landing is expected to be 35 miles from the launch site. If the jump does not happen Tuesday, the team will try again Wednesday.

Watch Mark Strassmann's full report in the video above.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.

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