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Private astronaut to attempt record skydive on Sept. 28

Private astronaut Larry Connor will attempt to etch his name into the record books yet again on Thursday morning (Sept. 28).

Connor — one of the crewmembers on April 2022’s Ax-1, the first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station — plans to set a new mark for highest HALO (high altitude, low open) formation skydive on Thursday in the skies over Roswell, New Mexico.

As the word “formation” implies, Connor won’t be doing it alone. The 73-year-old businessman and adventurer is part of the “Alpha 5” team, which also consists of four current and former U.S. Air Force Special Warfare Pararescue Specialists.

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“To break the existing world record for the highest HALO formation skydive, the team will ascend to an altitude of 35,000 feet [10,700 meters] using a specially designed balloon,” the project’s website states.

“From there, they will link arms and form a five-person formation before safely separating and landing,” it adds. “A representative from Guinness World Records will be present to assess and validate the record-setting achievement.”

That balloon — the largest ever manufactured in the United States, according to project team members — is scheduled to lift off from Roswell at sunrise, which is around 6:40 a.m. local time (8:40 a.m. EDT; 1240 GMT).

But Mother Nature must cooperate for that schedule to hold; the jump is “highly weather-dependent,” Alpha 5 representatives wrote in an emailed advisory. “For safety, the date and time may shift.”

The jump window runs through Oct. 15.

The Alpha 5 jump is a fundraising effort aiming to raise $1 million for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SWOF). As of this afternoon, Alpha 5 had raised about $22,000 of that goal. All proceeds will go to the SWOF, project team members said.

“The Special Operations Warrior Foundation’s enduring promise to America’s Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps Special Operations personnel is to honor the fallen, and all Medal of Honor recipients, by providing full educations and additional opportunities, ‘cradle to career’ (preschool-college), to their children,” the SWOF website reads.

HALO jumps have been used by the U.S. military’s various special forces for decades, according to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. They generally occur from an altitude of 30,000 feet to 40,000 feet (9,000 to 12,000 meters), with chute opening occurring as low as 800 ft (240 m). That’s very different than a recreational skydive, which generally features a jump from no higher than 15,000 ft (4,500 m) and a chute opening at around 3,000 ft (900 m).

HALO jumps “are used for stealth, primarily to bring the jumpers into a hostile region. By keeping the aircraft up high, it can remain out of range of anti-aircraft fire and surface missiles,” the National Air and Space Museum wrote.

“While the high altitude brings cover, it also brings substantial danger — lack of oxygen being top among them. If their pressurized equipment fails, it would be a matter of seconds before the HALO jumpers pass out from hypoxia,” the organization added.

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