French sky-diver plans free fall to Earth
(CNN) -- A French sky-diver was Monday preparing for a quest to break four world records in one by making a 40-kilometre free fall jump from the Earth's stratosphere.
Michel Fournier tests his equipment a few days before his attempt to break four world records.
Michel Fournier, 64, will make a two-hour journey in a helium-powered balloon pod up to the very void of space -- and then throw himself into the abyss at 40,000 meters, (131,000 feet) wearing a pressurized suit capable of withstanding extreme temperatures of minus 100 degrees Celsius (minus 148 Fahrenheit).
The plunge will take a mere 15 minutes, during which he will break through the sound barrier.
If he succeeds, Fournier will actually break four world records: for fastest free fall, longest free fall, highest jump, and highest altitude reached by a man in a balloon. Watch report on Michel Fournier's free fall quest »
As he prepared to embark on the trip, Fournier began breathing the compressed oxygen that he needs to acclimatize his body to the pressure as he rises to four times the altitude at which a commercial airliner normally flies.
Some have, however, questioned how safe the mission really is. At around 12,000 meters (40,000 feet) there is not enough oxygen to breathe and he could suffer a fatal blood clot.
At 19 kilometers up, if his pressure suit fail, his blood could begin to boil because of the air pressure, according to scientists who have been advising him on his mission. Should his body become exposed, he would lose consciousness and suffer brain damage within minutes.
Fournier's team said he was "calm, cool and collected" in advance of the attempt which was initially set for 6 a.m. ET Monday but was later pushed back to 10 a.m. ET because of strong winds.
Fournier says he hopes to collect data that will help astronauts and others survive at high altitudes.
The former French paratrooper and his team have been putting the final finishing touches to the mission dubbed "Le Grand Saut" (The Big Jump) since Friday in the small city of North Battleford, Saskatchewan.
"This project is a great scientific and human challenge," said Fournier. "This is my baby, my dream. I just want to realize my dream."
He has spent two decades and nearly $20 million in his quest to send him to the heavens in a stratospheric balloon. According to his Web site, Fournier sold virtually all his possessions to finance the launch of this project.
This is not the first time he has made a high-altitude jump. He has more than 8,600 jumps to his name and holds the French record for the highest parachute jump at 12,000 meters (40,000 feet).
His latest skydiving attempt comes after two unsuccessful jumps in 2002 and 2003. Strong winds tore his balloon the last time, but he bought a new one and the massive balloon is stronger this time around, reinforced with three layers.
In 2000, France refused to give permission for the jump on its territory, deeming it too risky.
A year later, Canadian government granted him permission to launch from the vast plains of Saskatchewan, which has a very low population.