On October 14th, 2012, 43-year-old Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner mesmerized the world when he skydived from an altitude of 128,000 feet. Along the way, he became the first man to break through the sound barrier without vehicular power on his descent and also broke skydiving records for exit altitude, vertical free-fall distance without drogue and vertical speed without drogue. Now just about two years later, Google Vice President Alan Eustace has completed a similar feat by skydiving from an even higher altitude - 135,908 feet!
The 57-year-old began his journey to the edge of Space from Roswell, New Mexico at 7.00am on Friday, October, 24th. While Felix flew up inside a pressurized capsule, Alan who wore a customized spacesuit with built in life-saving features, made the 2 hour 7 minute journey tethered directly to the helium balloon. Upon reaching the pre-determined altitude, he used a small explosive to detach himself from the balloon and began his rapid descent back to earth.
After free-falling for 4.5 minutes during which he hit a top speed of 822mph, the adventurer manually opened up his parachute and tumbled safely back to earth. While the small sonic boom that emanated when the skydiver exceeded the speed of sound was heard all the way on earth, Alan says he did not feel or hear it. Though he did stumble out of control for a few seconds and even managed a couple of back flips, Alan was able to stabilize himself in a very short period of time thanks to the drogue parachute he was using. His total descent time? A mere 14 minutes and 19 seconds!
The computer scientist who has been secretly training for this epic leap for the past three years, says that it was an amazing adventure. On his way up he experienced things that only a few have been fortunate enough to - the dark edge of Space and the different layers of the atmosphere. As for the journey down? Alan says it was a "wild wild ride", one during which he hugged on to his equipment module, tucked in his legs and held his heading. And yes, he did record his incredible journey with the help of two simple GoPro cameras.
In addition to setting a new record for the highest free-fall parachute jump, Alan also became the second person to ever break through the sound barrier. The skydiver says he hopes his success will encourage other space lovers to take the plunge. Given that Arizona-based World View Enterprises plans to utilize the same technology when they begin transporting tourists for short jaunts to Space in late 2016, skydiving may soon become the new must-do adventure - at least for those that can afford these expensive leaps.
Resources: theguardian.com, theblaze.com,dailymail.co.uk