Quieter Than a Sonic Boom

October 27, 2014

If you weren’t listening very closely to the news these past few days, you might have missed it. Remember Felix Baumgartner and his historic jump from approximately 24 miles in space? Someone beat his record.

Alan_Eustace_in_2008

photo credit: Rico Shen

I know, this doesn’t look like a guy who would voluntarily skydive to Earth from 25 miles in space, but looks are almost always deceiving.

Alan Eustace, a Google executive who has the best professional title ever (Senior Vice President of Knowledge) detached himself from a helium balloon 25 miles above New Mexico and fell back to the planet’s surface, reaching speeds of 1,300km/hour and breaking the sound barrier, which people on the ground could hear even though for him it was quiet.

 


 

What’s almost more impressive than his fall down to Earth is his trip up into space, which did not take place in any kind of capsule or space ship. Instead, he dangled at the end of a long tether attached at the other end to a helium balloon that carried him until he freed himself and began his descent. All that separated him from the enormity of space was his specially designed space suit, which Paragon Space Development Corp spent three years getting right. Oh, and by the way, to keep his face mask from fogging up and blocking some pretty amazing views, he had to stay almost completely still and respond to radio queries with the tiniest of leg movements.

So why was there so much publicity surrounding Baumgartner’s jump and so little surrounding Eustace’s? These were two very different events. Baumgartner is a known daredevil (nicknamed Fearless Felix) with several world records to his name. Eustace is a 57-year-old computer scientist. Baumgartner’s event was sponsored by corporate giant Red Bull. Eustace refused to accept sponsorship money from companies, including the one he works for, Google. He and the engineers at Paragon Space Development Corp wanted to focus on the science and engineering behind the event, and they worried that sponsorships would make this more of a publicity stunt than an experiment.

While the two jumps stand far from each other on publicity scale, they share at least one important feature. They cause kids all over the world to look up. What would it be like to float that far into space? What would it feel like to jump? What would it feel like to fall? What would it feel like to land?

Keep looking up, kids. There’s always another record to beat, boundary to push, goal to achieve.

~Andi at Nomad