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The competition heats up: A Google executive successfully set a new sky-diving record on Friday, diving from 135 thousand feet as part of an engineering effort to build “a self-contained commercial spacesuit that would allow people to explore some 20 miles above the Earth’s surface.”
After nearly three years of intense planning, development and training, Eustace began his ascent via a high-altitude, helium-filled balloon just as the sun was rising. It took more than two hours to hit a record altitude of 135,908 feet, from which he separated himself from the balloon and started plummeting back to Earth.
Wearing his specially designed spacesuit, Eustace hit a top velocity of 822 mph during a freefall that lasted 4 1/2 minutes. Jim Hayhurst, director of competition at the United States Parachute Association, was the jump’s official observer. He said Eustace deployed a drogue parachute that gave him incredible stability and control despite the massive Mach 1.23 speed reached during the freefall. Eustace didn’t feel it when he broke the sound barrier, but the ground crew certainly heard the resulting sonic boom, Hayhurst said.
This flight suggests that the technology for doing these kinds of sky-dives from the very edge of space is beginning to mature, and might even be available soon for passengers on tourist flights.