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Skydiver Felix Baumgartner Lives by ‘Born to Fly’ Mantra

Red Bull(NEW YORK) -- "Born to Fly" reads the tattoo on 43-year-old Felix Baumgartner's arm.  When he steps off the ledge of his capsule Tuesday morning, 120,000 feet above Earth, he will be flying faster than the speed of sound.  His body will go from zero to 690 mph in 34 seconds, and he will be supersonic for almost a minute -- free-falling for 5 minutes and 35 seconds.

"Born to Fly" isn't just his mantra; Baumgartner lives it as a skydiver who has flown across the English Channel and dreamed of even bigger feats.  For five years, he has been training with a top-notch team from Red Bull on a project dubbed Stratos -- Mission from the Edge of Space.

Baumgartner plans to ride in a capsule carried aloft by massive helium filled to 120,000 feet.  Only one person has done this before -- the legendary Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger in 1960.

The balloon carrying Baumgartner aloft is incredibly large and just as fragile.  It can't launch with winds greater than 6 mph, so the team's meteorologist will be watching -- and waiting -- for fair weather.

If this ambitious mission succeeds, Baumgartner will break several records:

  • First human to break the speed of sound in in free-fall (Mach 1 more than 690 mph)
  • Highest free-fall altitude --120,000 feet (Kittinger hit 105,000 feet in 1960)
  • Highest manned balloon flight at 120,000 feet (previous record was 113,740 feet in 1961)
  • Longest free-fall (Baumgartner's team expects 5 minutes, 35 seconds; Kittinger's was 4 minutes, 36 seconds in 1960)
  • Largest manned balloon in history at 550 feet tall, with a volume of 30 million cubic feet

Dr. Jonathan Clark is the chief medical officer for this effort.  He is a former NASA flight surgeon currently with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute and can recite the risks of this ride in his sleep.

This, he says, is a very hostile environment: "We are using a helium balloon to get to the stratosphere, but to get there we have to transit the death zone."

It is dangerous.  Every member of the team acknowledges the threats of extreme cold, extreme temperature fluctuations, the possibility of an uncontrolled flat spin that could hit 220 rpm, drogue chute failure, spacesuit puncture, and life support systems failure.

But Baumgartner told ABC News he doesn't think of any of this when he is standing on the step of his capsule looking down at Earth.

"You hear yourself breathing.  You can see the curvature of Earth, the sky is totally black.  It is a kind of overwhelming view because you have never seen a black sky, but then you can't stand there forever," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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