Alan Eustace, an executive with Google, set records in a sky dive taken yesterday morning outside of Roswell, New Mexico. His nearly 136,000 foot descent exceeded that of Felix Baumgartner’s 2012 record-setting effort by over a mile and achieved speeds of Mach 1.23, or 822 miles per hour.
Unlike Baumgartner’s 2012 jump, the Google executive came with little publicity or fanfare. A major reason for this was the practical nature of the event. Rather than raising money through sponsorships, Eustace made his jump with the yeoman goal of testing a commercial spacesuit for Paragon Space Development (no affiliation to Google), a company which focuses on creating new life support and environmental control systems. Advancement in this sector holds the promise of eventually providing the initiative required for space travel by making progress possible through the hands of private citizens. It may be a necessary step to further humanity’s ambitions to explore new worlds, as the private exploration model is capable of funding itself on a nearly limitless and voluntary basis through space tourism.
Eustace has reportedly mentioned that while Google, Inc. had offered assistance with the project, he declined their offer on the grounds of maintaining focus on the task at hand and preventing it from becoming a media circus. That level of humility well summarizes the spirit of the project, which in addition to conducting all of the prerequisite preparations in secret, also made use of GoPro cameras and a simple off-the-shelf radio to record the event.
That said, the technology that went into the event required years of engineering and development on the equipment side, and extensive planning and training for Eustace. The systems deployed to make the jump possible required ample troubleshooting and re-design over a three-year period. One surprising complication was that the height in the stratosphere from which Eustace’s freefall took place is significantly warmer than lower elevations, which necessitated an engineering solution to solve the problem of keeping the suit from overheating and preventing its face shield from fogging from Eustace’s bodily moisture. The suit itself also required motions opposite of those of regular sky dives to control the parachute during descent.
James Hayhurst, the official observer of the jump and also the Director of Competition with the United States Parachute Association, reported being able to hear the resulting sonic boom from the Google Executive’s record-setting sky dive. He reflected on his participation in the history-making event by comparing it to being there for the building of the Spirit of St. Louis.
As the dust metaphorically settled into the teams’ humble round of congratulations for each other, three records stood broken. Eustace’s exit altitude set an official record at 135,890 feet, more than a mile higher than Felix Baumgartner’s previous 2012 record. The second record was vertical speed at 100,000 feet elevation. Eustace clocked in at 822 miles per hour, though there is a caveat in that Baumgartner achieved higher speeds as he fell. The difference is explained in that Eustace’s team provided him with a drogue parachute for maintaining stability, which slowed him as the atmosphere thickened. The drogue was not counted as an actual parachute for record keeping purposes, which then meant that Eustace also set the record for free fall distance at 123,414 feet. It’s not just any day that a Google executive sets a sky dive record, let alone three.
By B. J. Whittemore
Photo Courtesy of NASA – flickr License