By Nicole Bode
DNAinfo Associate Editor
BATTERY PARK CITY — It’s one small step for man, one giant free-fall from 124,000 feet above the earth.
In what may be the most ambitious plan yet to test the limits of human endurance, professional skydiver Felix Baumgartner is going to jump from the upper limits of the atmosphere — trying to break the sound barrier with his body as he dives headfirst towards the planet below, he explained in Lower Manhattan Friday.
“When I was a little kid, I had only one dream: a dream about flying,” Baumgarten, 40, told reporters at the New York Academy of Sciences.
“We’re going to do it somewhere this year … we still have some hurdles to overcome, but we’re going to do it.”
The space mission is being sponsored by the energy drink Red Bull, which also sponsored the Austrian-born adventurer’s 2003 skydive across the English Channel wearing a pair of carbon wings.
For the Red Bull Stratos space project, Baumgarten will wear a fully-pressurized suit to insulate him from bone-crushing altitude and freezing and scalding temperatures that come from falling faster than 690 miles per hour. He’ll rise up into the atmosphere alone, inside a pressurized pod attached to a 600-foot-wide hot air balloon.
He’ll reach terminal velocity half a minute after leaping from the pod, and will free-fall hundreds of thousands of feet within minutes before yanking a parachute at around 5,000 feet, he said.
The exact date and location are yet to be determined, but the jump is expected to happen somewhere in North America in 2010.
“Of course I have fear,” Baumgartner admitted, “I use fear for my own advantage. I use fear to stay focused.”
Retired United States Air Force Colonel Joe Kittinger, 81, who’s now part of the advisory team for the mission, broke the freefall record for highest jump in 1960 by surviving a leap from 102,800 feet, or about 20 miles above the earth.
Kittinger said he signed on to the program to help break that record — so that the resulting data on human endurance can benefit the country’s future space missions.
“It’s human nature to want to go faster, further. We’re competitive people, humans are,” Kittinger said. “My record was set 50 years ago. The record should be broken. It’s not an easy thing to do, if it was easy, somebody else would have done it.”
“The most important thing is the confidence that Felix has,” Kittnger added, “He knows he can handle any problems that come up. My best advice to Felix is going to be, ‘have fun, enjoy it, and just tell us about it when you get down.’”