* 21:23 22 January 2010 by Charles Q Choi
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A 'space diver' will try to smash the nearly 50-year-old record for the highest jump this year, becoming the first person to go supersonic in freefall. The stunt could help engineers design escape systems for space flights.
On 16 August 1960, US Air Force Captain Joe Kittinger made history by jumping out of a balloon at an altitude of some 31,333 metres. "I stood up and said a prayer and stepped off," he recalled (see Space diving: The ultimate extreme sport).
Since then, many have tried to break that record but none have succeeded – New Jersey native Nick Piantanida actually died trying in 1965. Now Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner has announced he will make the attempt, with help from Kittinger and sponsorship from the energy drink company Red Bull.
Baumgartner, who became the first person to cross the English Channel in freefall in 2003, will be lofted to a height of 36, 575 metres in a helium balloon. After floating up for roughly three hours, he will open the door of a 1-tonne pressurised capsule, grab the handrails on either side of the exit, and step off, potentially breaking records for the highest parachute jump, as well as the fastest and longest freefall."
Man, this is nuts! He's going to break the sound barrier in freefall - wow.