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Man plans leap from stratosphere - 120,000 feet up

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Some time this year, Felix Baumgartner intends to step out of a capsule lifted 120,000 feet by a balloon and leap back to Earth, becoming the first man to break the sound barrier without an aircraft.

And yes, he will be afraid.

"Of course. I always use fear to my advantage, for focus," said Baumgartner, 40, the Austrian-born skydiver best known for gliding 22 miles across the English Channel with the help of a 6-foot (2-meter) wing strapped to his back after jumping from 33,000 feet in 2003.

The jump, sponsored by a beverage company, will take place from the stratosphere on an unspecified date at an unspecified place in North America, event organizers told a news conference on Friday. The date and place will depend on weather conditions.

One aim is to break the 50-year-old record set by Joe Kittinger, who jumped from 102,800 feet for the U.S. Air Force in 1960 to mark the highest parachute jump and longest and fastest free fall.

Members of Baumgartner's team insist another goal is in the interest is science, including monitoring the effects of supersonic travel on the body and how it reacts to the changes in pressure, temperature, acceleration and deceleration.

"The goal is to get him as high as we can, get him back down to Earth safely, and gather all the data we can," said Kittinger, 81, a consultant on the project.

Just as Kittinger did, Baumgartner will go up in a balloon, though his pressure suit, capsule and monitoring equipment will be much more advanced.

The trip up will last three hours, and during the roughly 21-minute return Baumgartner will only hear Kittinger's voice inside his helmet.

"He was my childhood hero," Baumgartner said.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Philip Barbara)

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