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article imageVideo: Google VP smashes Baumgartner's stratosphere jump record

By JohnThomas Didymus     Oct 25, 2014 in Technology
Roswell - A Google vice president, Alan Eustace, 57, broke Felix Baumgartner's 2012 parachute jump world record Friday when he dived from a balloon near the top of the stratosphere, breaking the sound barrier during a freefall that lasted four-and-a-half minutes.

Eustace took off early on Friday from an old runway at an airport in Roswell, NM. He was lifted up by a high-altitude balloon controlled by a ballast and vent, and filled with 35,000 cubic feet of helium. He ascended for about two hours at a rate of up to 1,600 feet per minute to a stratospheric altitude of 135, 890 feet (41, 419 meters), about 25 miles, in a specially designed spacesuit fitted with a GoPro camera linked to ground control, and a life-support system to ensure survival in the stratosphere.
The official boundary of space is set at about 73 miles, meaning that Eustace was about a third of the way to space when he dived back to Earth.
Eustace's peak altitude, first reported as 135,908 feet, but adjusted to 135,890 feet in the official report to the World Air Sports Federation, surpassed by a wide margin the previous record of 128,100 feet (39,045 meters) set by the Austrian thrill-seeker Baumgartner on Oct. 14, 2012.
Alex Eustace s spacesuit
Alex Eustace's spacesuit
Paragon Space Development Corporation
Eustace dived to Earth from a height of over 135,000 feet in just about 15 minutes after separating from the balloon with the aid of a specially designed explosive device. He reached in freefall a peak supersonic velocity of 822 miles per hour (Mach 1.23), generating a sonic boom that people on the ground heard. But, according to the New York Times, Eustace was unaware of the moment of the boom after he broke the sound barrier.
James Hayhurst, director of competition with the US Parachute Association, who participated as official observer and spoke with Eustace after he landed, said, "He just said it was a fabulous view. He was thrilled."
Hayhurst confirmed the record as official observer. He said Eustace was able to achieve stability and control at peak speed with the help of a drogue parachute, unlike Baumgartner who spun wildly at peak speed.
Alex Eustace s space suit
Alex Eustace's space suit
Paragon Space Development Corporation
His system also had safety features to prevent him from getting entangled in his parachute. It opened after about four-and-a-half minutes of freefall, allowing him to glide to Earth, landing at a place about 70 miles from where he took off in Roswell.
He told the New York Times after he landed safely, "It was amazing. It was beautiful. You could see the darkness of space and you could see the layers of atmosphere, which I had never seen before."
"It was a wild, wild ride. I hugged on to the equipment module and tucked my legs and I held my heading," he added.
Mark Kelly, former astronaut, who witnessed the ascent ahead of the record-breaking fall, said, "To break an aviation record is incredibly significant. There is an incredible amount of risk. To do it safely is a testament to the people involved."
Alex Eustace at lift off  early Friday  Oct. 24  2014.
Alex Eustace at lift off, early Friday, Oct. 24, 2014.
Paragon Space Development Corporation
In contrast with Baumgartner's ascent accomplished using a specially designed capsule, Eustace was lifted to peak altitude using a helium-filled balloon hooked to his spacesuit. Also in contrast with Baumgartner, the project was carried out in secrecy. Eustace worked privately for three years with a team of experts in the design of spacesuits, parachutes, balloons and life support systems.
The secrecy in which the project was carried out meant that announcement of the new altitude dive record took the world by surprise.
Eustace, a computer engineer as well as an experienced pilot and parachutist, took the decision on the project in 2011. Although Google was willing to assist, he preferred to seek help elsewhere. He was determined to accomplish the project without media attention, unlike Baumgartner's Red Bull Stratos team multimillion dollar marketing fanfare.
He contacted Taber MacCallum, then with Paragon Space Development Corporation, a company involved in a project to build a self-contained ecosystem for future space explorers. Paragon agreed to make available its Stratospheric Explorer team to work with Eustace to develop a spacesuit with a life-support system that makes it possible for the user to breathe pure oxygen during ascent to and descent from the stratosphere.
The StratEx team had been working for some years on a commercial spaceflight project for an Arizona company World View Enterprises to develop by 2016 artificial suits, luxury capsule and balloon systems that will make it possible for tourists to pay to visit the stratosphere, over 20 miles above the Earth's surface.
Alex Eustace in suit before lift off
Alex Eustace in suit before lift off
Paragon Space Development Corporation
The team was thus able to adapt its ongoing project to Eustace's specific requirements and gain new experience towards the goal of its project.
According to Paragon's CEO Grant Anderson, apart from its intended commercial application, it is also hoped that the technology will find application in rescue, military and scientific fields.
One of the major technical challenges the team faced was finding a way to keep Eustace cool in the stratosphere where temperature increases with height. As part of measures to avoid overheating, Eustace had to maintain minimum activity throughout the ascent.
The records Eustance broke included the exit altitude record, jumping from 135, 890 feet; vertical speed record of 822 mph or Mach 1.23 at 100,000 feet, compared with Baumgartner's 809 mph or Mach 1.20 at the same altitude. However, Baumgartner continued accelerating until he reached a peak freefall velocity of 843 mph, or Mach 1.24.
Alex Eustace during ascent
Alex Eustace during ascent
Paragon Space Development Corporation
He also broke the freefall distance record after falling 123, 414 feet (37, 617) in 4 minutes and 27 seconds, finally releasing his parachute at an altitude of 12, 476 feet.
He was the second person to ever break the sound barrier while outside an aircraft.
Paragon said in a press release, "Today, after 34 months of intense planning, development and training, Alan Eustace, supported by Paragon Space Development Corporation and its Stratospheric Explorer (StratEx) team, made history with a near-space dive from a high-altitude balloon at approximately 135,000 feet."
Grant Anderson, President and CEO of Paragon, said, "The experience and dedication of the StratEx team was crucial to the program's success. Together, Alan and the team today extended human spaceflight to the stratosphere in an important step to solidify the safety of future human endeavors. It is an honor to work with such an incredibly talented and accomplished group. This has opened up endless possibilities for humans to explore previously seldom visited parts of our stratosphere."
Eustace's love for spaceflight goes back to his childhood in Orlando in the 1960s and 1970s. He told the New York Times that his family would go to see every launch from Cape Canaveral.
He said, "I always wondered: what if you could design a system that would allow humans to explore the stratosphere as easily and safely as they do the ocean? With the help of the world-class StratEx team, I hope we've encouraged others to explore this part of the world about which we still know so little."
Eustace had worked for 15 years as a hardware designer at Digital Equipment Corporation before joining Google in 2002.
More about Felix baumgartner, Google, Alan Eustace, Red Bull, Paragon Space Development Corporation
 
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