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October 9, 2012

Update: Skydiver cancels try at supersonic jump

ROSWELL, N.M. — Extreme athlete and skydiver Felix Baumgartner has canceled his planned death-defying 23-mile free fall into the New Mexico desert because of high winds.

The 43-year-old former military parachutist from Austria had hoped to become the first skydiver to break the sound barrier and shatter three other world records.

But the weather on Tuesday forced his team to cancel his planned ascent in a 55-story, ultra-thin helium balloon that was to take him to the stratosphere.

Because the balloon is so delicate, it could only take flight if winds were 2 mph or below.

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Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner made final preparations Tuesday for a death-defying, 23-mile free fall into the southeastern New Mexico desert, hoping to become the first skydiver to break the sound barrier.

The planned early morning launch had been delayed by high winds. But shortly before 11 a.m. MDT, the 43-year-old former military parachutist from Austria entered his capsule and crews were expected to begin the hour-long process of filling the 55-story, ultra-thin and easy-to-tear helium balloon that was to take him into the stratosphere for the jump.

Those plans were in question before sunrise, when winds at 700 feet above ground — the top of the balloon — were 20 mph, far above the 3 mph maximum for a safe launch, said mission meteorologist Don Day.

After sunrise, Day said there were indications the upper level winds might calm, so the team pushed the launch window from 10 a.m. to noon at the latest.

The balloon had been scheduled to launch about 7 a.m. from a field near the airport in a flat dusty town that until now has been best known for a rumored 1947 UFO landing.

If the mission goes, Baumgartner will make a nearly three-hour ascent to 120,000 feet, then take a bunny-style hop from a pressurized capsule into a near-vacuum where there is barely any oxygen to begin what is expected to be the fastest, farthest free fall from the highest-ever manned balloon.

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