Felix Baumgartner Skydive: Supersonic Parachute Jump Attempt Raises Serious Scientific Questions

UPDATE: Due to weather concerns, Baumgartner's jump has been delayed to Tuesday morning.

On Oct. 8, Felix Baumgartner will jump from a helium-filled balloon 120,000 feet above the ground, wearing nothing but a special suit. At least that's the plan. And as he plummets to Earth from the skies over Roswell, N.M., "Fearless Felix" hopes to become the first person to break the speed of sound in free fall.

How will it all turn out? No one--not even in the scientific community--knows for sure.

HuffPost Science will live-blog Baumgartner's historic jump, starting at 11:30 a.m. EDT on Monday, Oct. 8. We'll be streaming video and keeping you up to date on all things Felix.

"His blood could boil. His lungs could overinflate. The vessels in his brain could burst. His eyes could hemorrhage. And, yes, he could break his neck while jumping from a mind-boggling altitude of 23 miles," the Associated Press reported.

But Baumgartner, a 43-year-old former military parachutist from Austria, seems unperturbed by the gruesome possibilities.

"So many unknowns," Baumgartner said, "but we have solutions to survive."

The daredevil's pressurized suit and helmet will be critical in determining whether Baumgartner lives to boast about the daring leap. The ensemble is designed to protect him from the high altitudes and lack of oxgen he'll experience.

"As a physicist, I think the design of his suit is the most interesting part of his jump," Dr. Rebecca Thompson of the American Physical Society told The Huffington Post in an email:

It has to protect him through a huge range of temperatures and pressures. If it isn't pressurized correctly or has a leak, he would blow up like a marshmallow in a microwave because the pressure in the stratosphere is so small compared to the pressure pushing out from the inside of his body...

The suit will also need to protect him from the extreme force he will experience while falling. The suit needs to make sure that his blood flow continues uninterrupted which can be a problem when he is exposed to the types of forces expected on this jump.

Thompson called the protective suit a "triumph of technology."

Baumgartner says the stunt--which comes 65 years after Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier flying a rocket plane--will serve as both a personal challenge and as an important scientific and medical experiment. On the Red Bull website (the energy drink is sponsoring the challenge), Baumgartner says, "[This] is an opportunity to gather information that could contribute to the development of life-saving measures for astronauts and pilots--and maybe for the space tourists of tomorrow. One of the unknowns is how a human body will react approaching supersonic speeds. The effects of the transition to supersonic velocity and back again are not known. This is just one of the things we hope to learn."

As for what to expect if he really does breaks the speed of sound? Says Thompson, "Honestly, I have no idea what will happen when he goes supersonic, but I really hope he does so I can find out."

For more on 'Fearless Felix' and his skydive from space, click through this slideshow:

Felix Baumgartner's Record-Setting Skydive Attempt