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Man to attempt supersonic skydive from 23 miles up

Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner is slated to attempt a faster-than-sound skydive from a hot air balloon some 120,000 feet above the Earth's surface, in an attempt to break a record set in 1960.

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Felix Baumgartner, takes a 25,000-foot test jump for Red Bull Stratos. The Austrian daredevil is slated to jump from some 120,000 feet in an attempt to break a skydiving record set in 1960.

Red Bull Stratos/AP/File

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A daredevil will soon attempt to break the world record for the highest skydive – set 50 years ago today – and be the first human to freefall faster than the speed of sound, and from near the edge of space.

On Aug. 16, 1960, U.S. Air Force Captain Joe Kittinger skydived from an altitude of 102,800 feet (31,333 meters) and lived to tell the tale. Attempts to break Kittinger's record since have resulted in failure and even death.

Undeterred, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner is slated to attempt a jump from some 120,000 feet (36,576 meters) above the surface of our planet later this year. To attain this stratospheric height, Baumgartner will take a three hour trip in a pressurized capsule raised aloft by a giant helium balloon.

Baumgartner's team expects him to reach supersonic speeds during his nearly 23-mile (37-km) descent back to Earth. If successful, Baumgartner will set the new bar for the world's highest skydive.

Energy drink company and extreme activity promoter Red Bull is sponsoring the project, called Red Bull Stratos. The record-setting skydive should help inform escape plans for astronauts and space tourists alike by extending the "safety zone" where making a bailout is still in the cards.

Perilous plummet

Besides crossing the sound barrier – where forces can break apart aircraft – the journey will present a host of other hazards to Baumgartner.

For starters, he could freeze in the minus 140 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 95 degrees Celsius) temperature, develop nitrogen bubbles in his blood, and spin out of control and lose consciousness.

To withstand the frigid, thin air, Baumgartner will don a flexible airtight spacesuit like that worn by NASA and United States Air Force personnel.

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