***UPDATE*** Felix did not make the jump today. The balloon carrying him up is very fragile, so wind has to be under 5 mph to make a successful jump. Thw wind was way too strong to attempt a jump today. They will try again tomorrow, Wednesday, July 25.
Felix Baumgartner and his Red Bull Stratos team have been working for years to break the world record for highest skydive. Today (or tomorrow depending on wind conditions) he will take his last test jump from a height of 90,000 feet or 17 miles. He will get up to 509 mph within 30 seconds of his jump. He last jumped in March, from a height of 71,000 feet and reached 365 mph.
The previous record was set in 1960 by Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger who rode a balloon up to a height of 102,900 feet and jumped. Kittinger is now a member of the Red Bull Stratos team (in you haven't figured it out yet, Baumgartner is sponsored by Red Bull), helping Baumgartner to break his record.
Baumgartner's plan is to eventually make a 23-mile or 120,000-foot drop during which he is expected to go supersonic. He'll also be pulled up by a balloon, but he's riding in a pressurized capsule he'll jump from.
This all sounds pretty insane and insanely awesome already. But it's way crazier and more dangerous than you can even imagine. You see, his team needed to design a special space suit for him because above 63,000 feet human beings need to be in a pressurized atmosphere or they suffer from the liquids in their bodies turning to gas and their bodies distending, which is called ebullism.
But the real advancement in the suit is the maneuverability. Baumgartner needs to be able to maneuver into the appropriate positions as the proper times or he'll die. More long-term, though, the maneuverability offered by his suit will be able to save the lives of astronauts. Stratos team member Jonathon Clark's wife died in the 2003 Columbia accident and he believes the maneuverability offered by Baumgartner's suit makes it remarkably easier for astronauts to reach a bailout hatch in an emergency.
So, Felix Baumgartner is not just ridiculously cool, he's also brave and potentially saving lives. Good luck to that crazy badass.
What's the highest you would skydive from?