© Volkmar K. Wentzel, Aug. 16, 1960, Joseph Kittingers free fall

Today, Austrian sky diver Felix Baumgartner aimed to execute the highest free fall in history, but the launch has been aborted at 11:42hrs MDT due to wind gusts making an attempt too risky. For 52 years that record has been held by U.S. Air Force pilot Joseph Kittinger—shown above at the outset of his historic skydive.

It was August 16, 1960. Kittinger had just uttered "Lord, take care of me now" and stepped out of his open-air, helium-balloon gondola, some 19 miles (31 kilometers) up. Thirteen minutes and 45 seconds later, he had traveled from the edge of space to New Mexico using only a pressurized suit and parachutes.

Designed in part to study high-altitude bailouts, much of the Air Force project, from training to touchdown, was captured in classic National Geographic pictures, re-presented here in anticipation of Baumgartner’s expected sound barrier-shattering dive from some 24 miles (39 kilometers) above the same spot.

"At zero count I step into space," Kittinger wrote in 1960. "No wind whistles or billows my clothing. I have absolutely no sensation of the increasing speed with which I fall." The U.S. Air Force pilot accelerated to 614 miles (988 kilometers) an hour—nearly the speed of sound—during his 4 minutes and 36 seconds of free fall. Baumgartner intends to break that speed record, and the sound barrier in the process. (read more here and here)

UPDATE / Oct. 14, 2012: TRAVELLING AT THE SPEED OF SOUND - SECOND TRY

Felix Baumgartner just left earth to return at the speed of sound.

“Never regret thy fall, O Icarus of the fearless flight. For the greatest tragedy of them all is never to feel the burning light.” (Oscar Wilde)

Try not to kill any birds on your way down - remember: in such heights it’s down-before-up priority; and tell Dietrich to use the money he makes with this mission on more useful projects in the future…

» find a music video with footage of Kittingers jump here «