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Skydiver makes test jump for record

Skydiving daredevil Felix Baumgartner is more than halfway toward his goal of setting a world record for the highest jump.

Baumgartner lifted off Thursday for a test jump from Roswell, N.M., aboard a 100-foot helium balloon. He rode inside a pressurized capsule to 71,581 feet — 13.6 miles — and then jumped. He parachuted to a safe landing, according to project spokeswoman Trish Medalen.

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Felix Baumgartner, left, shakes hands with U.S. Air Force Col. (Ret.) Joe Kittinger, right, in January 2010 following the Red Bull Stratos press conference announcing Baumgartner’s plan to attempt to become the first person ever to break the speed of sound with the human body in New York.

He’s aiming for nearly 23 miles this summer. The record is 19.5 miles.

“The view is amazing, way better than I thought,” Baumgartner said after the practice jump, in remarks provided by his representatives.

Thursday’s rehearsal was a test of his capsule, full-pressure suit, parachutes and other systems. A mini Mission Control — fashioned after NASA’s — monitored his flight.

Baumgartner reached speeds of up to 364.4 mph Thursday and was in free fall for three minutes and 43 seconds, before pulling his parachute cords, Medalen said. The entire jump lasted eight minutes and eight seconds. She stressed the numbers are still unofficial.

With Thursday’s successful test, Baumgartner is believed to be only the third person ever to jump from such a high altitude and free fall to a safe landing, and the first in a half-century.

“I’m now a member of a pretty small club,” he said.

When the 42-year-old Austrian known as “Fearless Felix” leaps from 120,000 feet in a few months, he expects to break the sound barrier as he falls through the stratosphere at supersonic speed. There’s virtually no atmosphere that far up, making it extremely hostile to humans, thus the need for a pressure suit and oxygen supply.

The record for the highest free fall is held by Joe Kittinger, a retired Air Force officer from Florida. He jumped from 102,800 feet — 19.5 miles — in 1960.

Baumgartner is out to beat that record. He plans one more dry run — jumping from 90,000 feet — before attempting the full 120,000 feet. The launch window opens in July and extends until the beginning of October.

Baumgartner has jumped 2,500 times from planes and helicopters, as well as some of the highest landmarks and skyscrapers on the planet — the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro, the Millau Viaduct in southern France, the 101-story Taipei 101 in Taiwan.

“I like to challenge myself,” Baumgartner told the Associated Press in a recent interview, “and this is the ultimate skydive. I think there’s nothing bigger than that.”

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