If you thought that techies or execs are boring people, meet Alan Eustace. This 57 year old Google Vice President parachuted from a balloon near the top of the stratosphere on Friday, falling faster than the speed of sound and breaking the world altitude record set just two years ago. At dawn he was lifted by a balloon filled with 35,000 cubic feet of helium from an abandoned runway at the airport in Roswell.
For a little over two hours, the balloon ascended at speeds up to 1,600 feet per minute to an altitude of more than 25 miles. Eustace dangled underneath in a specially designed spacesuit with an elaborate life-support system. He returned to earth just 15 minutes after starting his fall.
“It was amazing,” he said. “It was beautiful. You could see the darkness of space and you could see the layers of atmosphere, which I had never seen before.”
Eustace cut himself loose from the balloon with the aid of a small explosive device and plummeted toward the Earth at speeds that peaked at 822 mph, setting off a small sonic boom heard by observers on the ground.Alan Eustace landing after the record shattering skydive
He did not feel or hear the supersonic boom, he said. He performed two slow back flips before a small parachute righted him.
His technical team had designed a carbon-fiber attachment that kept him from becoming entangled in the main parachute before it opened. About 4½ minutes into his flight, he opened the main parachute and glided to a landing 70 miles from the launch site.
Eustace’s top altitude was initially reported as 135,908 feet. The final number being submitted to the World Air Sports Federation is 135,890 feet. The previous altitude record was set by Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner, who jumped from 128,100 feet on Oct. 14, 2012.
Eustace was carried aloft without the aid of the sophisticated capsule used by Baumgartner or millions of dollars in sponsorship money. Instead, Eustace planned his jump in the utmost secrecy, working for almost three years with a small group of technologists skilled in spacesuit design, life-support systems, and parachute and balloon technology.
He carried modest GoPro cameras aloft, connected to his ground-control center by an off-the-shelf radio.
Although Baumgartner was widely known for death-defying feats, Eustace describes himself as an engineer first with a deep commitment to teamwork.
“Alan is a risk-taker with a passion for details,” said Brian Reid, a computer network specialist who has worked with Eustace.
The Google computer scientist’s record-breaking skydive was part of the project by Paragon Space Development Corp. and its Stratospheric Explorer team. The team has been working privately for years in developing a self-contained commercial spacesuit that would permit people to explore some 20 miles above the Earth’s surface.
“This has opened up endless possibilities for humans to explore previously seldom visited parts of our stratosphere,” Paragon president and CEO Grant Anderson said in a statement.
The spacesuit with an elaborate life-support system could be used for emergency rescues or other scientific endeavors, according to the officials of Paragon. In 2012, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner, along with the help of the Red Bull Stratos team, did a parachute jump from a balloon at an altitude of 128,100 feet. Eustace reportedly broke that record with his 135,890-foot dive.