In our first “The Race to Near Space” podcast episode Skydiving-from 135,000 Feet with Alan Eustace, we delve into the world of stratospheric exploration. We sat down with Alan Eustace, an accomplished computer scientist and the record holder for the highest-altitude skydive in history. Eustace’s jump, which took place in October 2014, provided unique insights into the stratosphere and paved the way for future research and exploration in this fascinating realm.
Alan Eustace, a former Senior Vice President of Engineering at Google, began his stratospheric journey with a mission in mind: to create a spacesuit that would allow for various activities in space, starting with a skydive. He believed there was a better way to achieve this goal, and his background as an engineer drove him to explore new possibilities.
Eustace’s meticulous planning and calculations led to the development of a spacesuit and equipment capable of withstanding the harsh conditions of the stratosphere. His groundbreaking jump, which broke the world altitude record for skydiving, was not about seeking fame but rather a scientific endeavor to test the limits of technology.
One of the unexpected challenges Eustace and his team faced was safely bringing down the massive balloon that carried him to the stratosphere. This required innovative solutions, including the use of pyrotechnics to create a controlled descent for the balloon.
The stratosphere, often associated with extreme cold, surprised Eustace with its temperature dynamics. While it is indeed cold at higher altitudes, the lack of molecules in the stratosphere means that it doesn’t conduct heat away as expected. This revelation led to design adjustments in the spacesuit.
The day of the jump arrived, and Eustace embarked on a two-hour ascent, floating peacefully in the stratosphere. He described the gradual transition from seeing pebbles on the ground to cityscapes, the Earth’s curvature, and the sudden darkness of space. Eustace’s jump marked the first time he experienced silence at high speeds, with no sound until he encountered enough atmosphere to create a sonic boom.
The descent, lasting approximately 15 minutes, provided a thrilling experience as he accelerated to Mach 1.22 and then slowed down gradually as he encountered more atmospheric resistance. The controlled descent included sound for the first time and offered a unique perspective on Earth.
The podcast discussion also touched on the growing interest in stratospheric exploration and the potential for space tourism in the stratosphere. Alan Eustace emphasized the significance of this era of stratospheric research, highlighting its role in weather systems, scientific experiments, and even the discovery of life forms capable of surviving in this extreme environment.
As the world continues to explore the stratosphere, the mysteries and opportunities it holds promise a bright future for scientific discovery, technological advancements, and unique experiences for space enthusiasts.
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