I’m sure everyone remembers Felix Baumgartner’s epic October 2012 space jump — a bunch of videos of the record-breaking leap were released. When I went skydiving (one of the most insanely awesome things I’ve ever done), I started at about 10,000 feet in the air. Baumgartner was 128,000 feet when he left the platform, which allowed him enough falling time to actually break the sound barrier. As impressive as that feat was, the high-altitude jump record was broken on Friday — by a senior vice president at Google.
Fifty-seven-year-old Alan Eustace arrived at a Roswell, New Mexico airport on Friday morning and rode a helium-filled balloon for over two hours. He didn’t actually ride in the balloon, though — he actually hitched a ride beneath it, clipped into the underside of the balloon as it rose as much as 1,600 feet per minute. His specially designed space suit hopefully made this more comfortable than it sounds. When the balloon reached its target altitude — just over 25 miles, or 135,890 feet — Eustace cut the cords to the balloon and fell. He reached a top speed of 822 miles per hour, and like Baumgartner, he broke the sound barrier and caused an audible sonic boom, though says he didn’t feel it. The total length of his free fall was 4 minutes and 27 seconds.
Eustace made the jump under the guidance of the Paragon Space Development Corporation, which has been working on its StratEx (Stratospheric Explorer) mission for a while now. Part of that mission was the development of a special spacesuit enabling manned exploration of the stratosphere above 100,000 feet. Aside from his affiliation with Paragon Space Development Corporation, there was no corporate sponsorship for the jump; Baumgartner was sponsored by Red Bull. This probably explains why Baumgartner’s jump received so much more press.
Eustace has been a pilot and parachutist for a long time, and he’d been working with Paragon for a while, having planned the jump a number of years ago. Part of the equipment he needed was a carbon fiber that prevented him from getting tangle up in the parachute for the first few minutes, especially when he did a couple backflips in the air.
Eustace broke records for the height, as well as the peak velocity he reached. “It was beautiful. You could see the darkness of space and you could see the layers of atmosphere, which I had never seen before,” said Eustace.