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Sky diver's feat could influence spacesuits

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Now that the dust has settled in the New Mexico desert where supersonic sky diver "Fearless Felix" Baumgartner landed safely on his feet, researchers are exhilarated over the possibility his exploit could someday help save the lives of pilots and space travelers in a disaster.

Baumgartner's death-defying jump Sunday from a balloon 24 miles above Earth yielded a wealth of information about the punishing effects of extreme speed and altitude on the human body, insights that could inform the development of improved spacesuits, new training procedures and emergency medical treatment.

A NASA engineer who specializes in astronaut escape systems said Baumgartner's mission "gives us a good foundation" for improving the odds of survival for professional astronauts, space tourists and high-altitude pilots and passengers.

"What I would hope is that, perhaps, this is just the first step of many, many advancements to come" in emergency bailouts, said Dustin Gohmert at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Gohmert said researchers have spent decades working on self-contained space escape systems, with no significant advances since Joe Kittinger in 1960 jumped from 19.5 miles up and reached 614 mph, records that stood until Sunday.

NASA had no role in Baumgartner's feat, but Dr. Jonathan Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon whose wife, Laurel, died in the shuttle Columbia accident, dedicated himself to improving escape systems and led Baumgartner's medical team. -- AP

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