Google exec, Alan Eustace, has broken the 128,100-ft (39,045-m) high-altitude skydive record set by Felix Baumgartner in October, 2012 (with much less fanfare). Jumping from a balloon at 135,890 ft (41,419 m) above Roswell, New Mexico, Eustace also set new world records for vertical speed and freefall distance.
Rather than relying on the sponsorship of an energy drink company, Eustace and the StratEx (Stratospheric Explorer) program team took the self-funded route. With Eustace being Google's Senior Vice President of Knowledge, Google offered to help out, but Eustace declined as he didn't want the attempt to turn into a marketing event.
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Also setting itself apart from Baumgartner's record-setting jump was the way Eustace made his way to altitude. Rather than being protected from the environment by a custom-built fiberglass pressurized capsule like Baumgartner, Eustace rose to the stratosphere in a pressure suit dangling from a helium-filled scientific balloon.
The ascent took two hours and seven minutes, with Eustace spending around half an hour enjoying the view before cutting himself free of the balloon at 9:09 MDT on October 24 and arriving back on solid ground 14 minutes and 19 seconds later.
The descent included a freefall assisted by a stabilizing drogue that saw him cover 123,414 ft (37,607 m) in four minutes and 27 seconds and reach a speed of 822 mph (1,323 km/h) before slowing in the thickening atmosphere and deploying his parachute at around 18,000 ft (5,486 m). This gives Eustace the world records for the longest freefall distance with a drogue/stabilizing device and the highest vertical speed.
For the feat, Eustace was wearing the StratEx (Stratospheric Explorer), a fully self-contained spacesuit and recovery system not unlike the spacesuits used on the Apollo missions or the ISS. Eustace, who is responsible for Google's research and development activities and describes himself as an engineer first, worked with Paragon Space Development to design the suit and life support system.
The goal of the StratEx program was to develop a suit that would allow manned exploration of the stratosphere above 100,000 ft (30,480 m), with Paragon believing such technology will find various applications, including the study of the science of the stratosphere, spaceship crew egress, the development of new high altitude aircraft suits, the study of dynamics of bodies at Mach, and opening the way for records to tumble in the areas of space diving, sailplaning and ballooning.
The program was headed by Paragon Space Development Corporation, which provided the suit's life support system, and included the participation of ILC Dover, which was responsible for the design, development and production of the StratEx, and United Parachute Technologies, which was responsible for the design and manufacture of the drogue and parachute, as well as the flight training of Eustace and the safety skydivers. Having set a new record for the highest altitude skydive, the StratEx team hopes the feat will inspire others to push the boundaries of exploration.
Eustace's jump was observed by the US Parachute Association's (USPA) Director of Competition James Hayhurst, which also served as an official observer for Baumgartner's world-record setting jump. Hayhurst has now submitted Eustace's preliminary claims for all three records through the National Aeronautics Administration to international skydiving’s governing body, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Video of Eustace's stratospheric leap can be viewed below.