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October 25, 2014

Googler Alan Eustace breaks parachute jump record from 25 miles up

by John_A


eustace_jump_01A senior vice president with Google, Alan Eustace, parachuted from about 25 miles above Earth to break the world altitude record for a parachute jump, breaking the speed of sound during his descent in the process.  The jump by Eustace differed in many ways from the successful attempt of Felix Baumgartner from 128,100 feet in 2012, not the least of which may be the relative secrecy surrounding Eustace’s attempt.

Eustace was taken aloft via a helium filled balloon that ascended at speeds up to 1,600 feet per minute. Eustace dangled below the balloon, eventually cutting himself free through the use of a couple small explosive devices. While the ascent took a little over two hours, the fall back to Earth took just 15 minutes. During his fall, Eustace’s speed peaked at 822 miles per hour, creating a sonic boom that could be heard on the ground. Eustace says he did not feel or hear the sonic boom.

After verification, the final altitude submitted to the World Air Sports Federation as the official jump height was 135,890 feet.

The previous record was set as part of a big publicity spectacle by Baumgartner who was carried to altitude in a special capsule backed by millions of dollars in sponsorship money. Eustace chose instead to embark on the three year project and the jump itself in secrecy aided only by a small group that helped design his spacesuit, life-support systems, parachutes and the balloon. Eustace even decided to forego financial support from his employer out of fear that Google may want to turn it into a PR event.

According to Eustace, “it was amazing. It was beautiful. You could see the darkness of space you could see the layers of atmosphere, which I had never seen before.” He also said it was “a wild, wild ride.” Mark Kelly, a former astronaut who viewed Eustace’s ascent, said “there is an incredible amount of risk. To do it safely is a testament to the people involved.” Although Eustace is seen as a risk-taker by his co-workers, they also indicate that he is very passionate about details.

James Hayhurst with the United States Parachute Association says attempts like Eustace’s establish “a little lookout tower at the edge of space that the common man can share.” Would you like to visit the edge of space for a fall back to Earth?

Eustace dangles from a balloon during his ascent.
Eustace lands 70 miles away after falling 25 miles in 15 minutes.

source: NY Times

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