By Mary Grady, Contributing editor
Skydiver Felix Baumgartner was all suited up and ready to fly on Tuesday morning when a gust of wind knocked down the still-inflating helium balloon that would carry him to 120,000 feet, and the mission was scrubbed. The next launch window for the Red Bull Stratos project, which aims to break U.S. Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger's 52-year-old skydiving altitude record, is Sunday, Oct. 14. The launch will be carried live on the Internet, when it happens, and Baumgartner's capsule carries a raft of cameras to provide live coverage of the three- to four-hour ascent to the stratosphere and the leap back to Earth. The team hopes that Baumgartner can become the first human to exceed the speed of sound in a freefall.
Baumgartner was "surprised and disappointed" at the last-minute decision, according to the Red Bull Stratos website. He has been training for the mission for five years. Kittinger, who is an advisor to the project, said he knows how it feels to be ready to go and then have to wait. "It was like it is with Felix right now," he said on Wednesday. "The pressure was the same and I had to be patient. Once I had to wait 30 days and never could launch." Project Director Art Thompson said Tuesday morning's wind gust had dangerously twisted the 700-foot-tall balloon in a way that could have damaged the delicate polyethylene material. "The integrity of the balloon at that point is really unknown and unacceptable to use for manned flight because we were not sure what would happen as we launch," he said. "Our biggest problem was the wind at the [700-foot] level." Wind speeds cannot exceed 3 mph or there is a chance the envelope could tear when the support team tries to release it. "We knew that we only had a small window today which we finally did not hit," Thompson said on Tuesday.
AVweb's editorial director Paul Bertorelli was watching online during Tuesday morning's attempt; click here for his take on the project from a skydiver's point of view.