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April 27, 2017

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Austrian daredevil to make new space jump bid after first attempt fizzles

LOS ANGELES -- An Austrian daredevil hopes to make a new record-breaking attempt Sunday to jump from the edge of space, days after his initial bid was aborted at the last minute due to gusting winds.

Felix Baumgartner will be transported up to 23 miles (37 kilometers) above the Earth beneath an enormous balloon, before launching himself into the void, aiming to become the first human to break the sound barrier in freefall.

If successful, he will go down in the record books. If not, he could face serious consequences, including death.

The 43-year-old was seconds away from lift-off in the U.S. state of New Mexico on Tuesday when organizers decided to cancel because his huge, gossamer-thin balloon was buffeted badly, even while still on the ground.

The Red Bull Stratos mission managers said shortly afterward that Thursday could work for a new bid, but scrubbed that the next day due to a forecast of windy weather for most of the rest of the week.

But everything now seems set for Sunday morning. "I like what I see on Sunday," said mission meteorologist Don Day. "It will again be a matter of what happens with the winds on the top" of the balloon.

"We may still have to wait and the window will likely be open until 11:00 a.m. (1700 GMT). We need to be ready for launch just after sunrise" around 6:45 a.m. (1245 GMT), he added.

The ascent is expected to take between two and three hours. If all goes well, the descent will take about 15 to 20 minutes — five minutes or so in freefall, and 10 to 15 floating down with his parachute.

The entire attempt will be beamed live by broadcasters around the world, and online — although with a 20-second delay in case something goes wrong, so that organizers can cut the feed.

The biggest risk he faces is spinning out of control, which could exert G forces and make him lose consciousness. A controlled dive from the capsule is essential, putting him in a head-down position to increase speed.

More gruesomely, the skydiver's blood could boil if there were the slightest tear or crack in his pressurized spacesuit-like outfit, due to instant depressurization at the extreme altitude.

Temperatures of 90 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 68 Celsius) could also have unpredictable consequences if his suit somehow fails.

"If there is a mishap, Mission Control is on it and would absolutely cut the feed," spokeswoman Sarah Anderson told AFP.

Baumgartner aims to break at least three records: the highest freefall leap, the fastest speed ever achieved by a human and become the first person to break the sound barrier of around 690 miles per hour in freefall.

The Austrian has been training for five years for the jump. He holds several previous records, notably with spectacular base jumps from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The mission, backed by a 100-strong team of experts, also hopes to contribute to medical and aeronautical research aimed at improving the safety of astronauts.

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