Today, if the weather is right, Austrian Felix Baumgartner will ride a balloon from Roswell, New Mexico, to the edge of space, backed by Red Bull’s investment and an international team of experts in aerospace medicine and engineering, pressure suit development, capsule design and creation, and balloon fabrication. After ascending to about 23 miles, or 120,000 feet, he’ll step out of his capsule and, one hopes, be the first human to break the sound barrier all on his own – before, one also hopes, opening his parachute and touching down. In that one little step, he’ll be pursuing a record established a decade before he was born. Update 9:30 AM: the jump is on weather hold, with the earliest launch set for 1:30 PM EST]
That record – highest jump ever – belongs to Joe Kittinger, the American test pilot who once rode a balloon 20 miles above the Earth’s surface, well into the stratosphere, and jumped. His sponsor was the Air Force, and the project was secret. It was 1960.