"Houston? ...I'm really cool."
With very little fanfare, a 57-year-old Google senior vice president named Alan Eustace fell 135,890 feet, or 25.7 miles, from (almost) space today. In addition to breaking the sound barrier (he topped out at 822 miles an hour coming down), he shattered the world record for high-altitude skydiving.
I'm sure they'll release full footage soon, but here's the 1-minute version:
How he did it was even more incredible. Unlike the previous record-holder, Felix Baumgartner (a world-famous daredevil, not a computer scientist), Eustace did not ascend in a specially-built space capsule tied to a helium-filled balloon. He just tied himself in a spacesuit to the balloon. The balloon took over two hours to reach its maximum height after leaving Roswell, NM, but it took him just fifteen minutes to fall. As Eustace told the New York Times today, "It was a wild, wild ride. I hugged on to the equipment module and tucked my legs and I held my heading."
The moment of takeoff in Roswell, NM. Looks like an alien to me, though.
Also in contrast to Baumgartner, who jumped from 128,100 feet on Oct. 12, 2012 (I guess mid-October is aerospace record-breaking season?), Eustace did not go up with the support of a massive Red Bull marketing team. A lot of his components were more off-the-shelf, as well, using GoPro cameras attached to radios bought at the store. Obviously, though, it couldn't have been cheap, even if it was quiet. He and a team of engineers designed his spacesuit and rigged the equipment necessary to separate from the balloon (using a small explosive), maintain a trajectory, and keep his suit from being tangled in the parachutes.