Felix Baumgartner forced to postpone record-breaking 23-mile skydive

Jump could take place on Thursday at the earliest.

Felix Baumgartner, an Australian daredevil and helicopter pilot, was forced to temporarily abort the 120,000ft sky-dive due to high winds.

The mission, which is sponsored by Red Bull, would break a number of world records, including the highest manned balloon flight and the longest free-fall.

More importantly, the 48-year-old ex-paratrooper was expected to become the first man to ever break the sound barrier (690mph) in free-fall during the 10 minute descent.

"Fearless Felix” had also hoped to shatter the 102,800ft (19.5 miles) milestone set by former US Air Force Colonel Joe Kittinger (now a key member of Baumgartner’s team) in 1960, and looked on course to do so after two successful test runs at 15 and 18 miles in March and July.

But whilst Felix strapped himself into the launch capsule just minutes before take-off, high winds whipped across the 55-storey balloon, forcing mission control to abort.

"That was a total disappointment, honestly. But as long as we have a spare balloon, and as long as we have more launch opportunities, I’m good”, Baumgartner said afterwards.

“We’ve made it so far, there’s no way we’re turning back”, he later declared on the mission’s official twitter feed.

Team spokeswoman Sarah Anderson ruled out a fresh launch attempt until Thursday at the very earliest, but gloomy weather forecasts may push back the launch date further.

The balloon used on Tuesday’s failed attempt is not re-usable, meaning that the team has just one more attempt left, since they only have one $250,000 back-up balloon.

Here’s the video of Joe Kittinger’s awe-inspiring 102,800ft jump in 1960:

Felix Baumgartner prepares to jump 80,000ft during a test jump in March. Photo: Getty/Red Bull

Alex Ward is a London-based freelance journalist who has previously worked for the Times & the Press Association. Twitter: @alexward3000

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Leader: The chaos and mendacity of Trump’s White House

That General Flynn was the first of the president’s men to fall should perhaps not have caused surprise.

In his inauguration speech on 20 January, Donald Trump used the phrase “American carnage” to ­describe the state of the US under Barack Obama. The description was correct, but President Trump had the timing wrong – for the carnage was still to come. Just a few weeks into his presidency, the real-estate billionaire and reality-TV star has become embroiled in more controversy and scandals than Mr Obama experienced in eight years. His ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries entering the US caused chaos at airports both at home and abroad and damaged America’s global standing. It was a false claim that the executive order, since suspended by the courts, would make the US safer. By alienating and stigmatising Muslims, it may well do the opposite.

The decision to pursue the policy so recklessly and hastily demonstrates Mr Trump’s appalling judgement and dubious temperament. It also shows the malign anti-Islamic influence of those closest to him, in particular his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, his senior adviser Stephen Miller, and Michael Flynn, the retired general who on 13 February resigned as ­national security adviser after only 24 days in the job.

That General Flynn was the first of the president’s men to fall should perhaps not have caused surprise, given his reputation for anger and arrogance. As recently as August, the retired three-star general said that Islamism was a “vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people” and falsely claimed that Florida Democrats had voted to impose sharia law at state and local level. He also led the chants of “Lock her up!” aimed at Hillary Clinton during the Republican ­National Convention, which would have been appreciated by Mr Trump then and today by those who enjoy irony.

Now General Flynn is under investigation by justice officials. He resigned over revelations in the media, most notably the Washington Post, that before taking office he had discussed US sanctions against Moscow with the Russian ambassador. It is unlawful for private citizens of the US to ­interfere in diplomatic disputes with another country.

Before standing down, General Flynn had publicly denied talking about sanctions during calls and texts with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December. He had also issued misleading accounts of their conversation to Vice-President Mike Pence and other Trump officials who went on to defend him. Given President Trump’s propensity to lie, General Flynn may have believed that he could get away it. As the former chief of a Pentagon spy agency, however, he should have known that the truth would come out.

The FBI had wiretaps of the ambassador’s conversations with General Flynn. In January, the acting US attorney general – later sacked by President Trump for opposing his “Muslim ban” – informed the White House that General Flynn had lied about his communications with the ambassador and was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Yet it took newspaper revelations about the intercepts to bring the national security adviser down. American carnage, indeed.

The disruptive present

How has capitalism shaped the way we work, play and eat – and even our sense of identity? Nine writers explore the cutting edge of cultural change in the latest instalment of our New Times series in this week's magazine.

The past decades have brought enormous changes to our lives. Facebook became open to the public in 2006, the first iPhone was launched in June 2007 and Netflix launched in the UK in 2012. More and more of us are ceaselessly “on”, answering emails at night or watching video clips on the move; social media encourages us to perform a brighter, shinier version of ourselves. In a world of abundance, we have moved from valuing ownership to treating our beliefs as trophies. The sexual vocabulary and habits of a generation have been shaped by online pornography – and by one company, MindGeek, in particular. We cook less but love cookery shows. We worry about “fake news” as numbers of journalists decline. We have become gender consumers, treating it as another form of self-expression. These shifts in human behaviour have consequences for politics and politicians. “The question should always be,” as Stuart Hall wrote in 1988, “where is the ‘leading edge’ [of change] and in what direction is it pointing?” The question is even more apposite today.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times