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Monday, 5 March, 2001, 16:40 GMT
Skydiver aims for high-altitude mark
Jump Reuters
Such a jump requires a special pressure suit
An Australian parachutist is planning to jump out of a balloon floating nearly 40 kilometres above the Earth's surface.

I want to come back safe and alive

Rodd Millner
Rodd Millner expects to reach speeds of between 1,600 and 1,800 kilometres (994-1,118 miles) per hour during his descent.

If he pulls it off, he will become only the second man to break the sound barrier by merely falling through the air

Millner, who will begin his ascent just outside Alice Springs, will have to wear a special pressure suit to survive the cold and lack of oxygen at high altitude. The chute itself will have to be much bigger than usual to cope with the extra load being carried.

'Safe and alive'

"Well, I believe with all the research that it's safe, but really no-one's ever been this fast before in this environment," the former army reservist and night-club bouncer said.

"Ultimately, we don't know but research suggests it will be a stable and safe fall and my decision to do this is based on the fact that I want to come back safe and alive."

Joe Kittinger Junior holds the current world-record high-altitude skydiving record. He leapt from a balloon that was 31,341 metres (102,800 feet) above the Earth in August, 1960.

Kittinger reached a speed of 1,149 kilometres (714 miles) an hour during his freefall.

Competitive environment

Millner faces competition from elite skydiver Cheryl Stearns. The airline pilot has countless parachuting records to her name and has put together the StratoQuest project with the aim of making a 40 km jump next year.

Jump Reuters
Rodd Millner believes the dive is safe
Both Millner and Stearns are now acquiring the knowledge and developing the equipment that will safeguard their descent.

Millner said his fall would be slowed by the Earth's atmosphere so by the time he got down to about two kilometres he would be at or below normal parachute speeds.

"What I will be doing is that as I come closer to Earth the atmosphere will thicken and that will slow me down, so eventually I'll be getting to 5,000 ft (1,524 m), 10,000 ft (3,050 m), and I will be going my normal parachute speed, probably slower actually, and then I will be able to release my parachute as per normal and then land as in training," he explained.

Computer games

The jump may be a relaxing change for a man who teaches explosives and mine warfare to Australian army recruits.

Millner hopes to turn his plunge into a virtual computer game using film from cameras that will be fitted to his suit and the balloon.

"It's basically extreme science to see how far we can push it - this is going to change the face of a lot of things...including emergency procedures for people exploring space," Millner said.

Project Space Jump will be launched from Alice Springs in March 2002.

Although 40 km may sound high, it is still not regarded as space. Most experts mark that boundary as beginning somewhere between 80 and 100 km (50-62 miles).

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