Move aside, Felix Baumgartner. Alan Eustace, a senior vice president at Google, fell from the top of the stratosphere this morning, plummeting nearly 26 vertical miles in the span of about 15 minutes. In doing so, he has broken Baumgartner's 2012 record for world's highest-altitude free fall – and by a pretty sizable margin.
Photo Credit: J. Martin Harris Photography/Paragon Space Development Corporation | For many, many more photos of today's jump, visit the PSDC website
On October 14th, 2012, Baumgartner fell to Earth from an altitude of 128,100 feet. The official figure on Eustace's maximum altitude is being given as 135,890 feet, or 25.74 miles. Baumgartner does appear to have held on to the overall speed record, however. On his return to Earth, Eustace achieved a top speed of 822 miles per hour, breaking the sound barrier and generating a sonic boom – but that's still about a residential speed-limit shy of Baumgartner's peak speed of 843.6 mph.
There were other notable differences between the two jumps. While both free-fallers were carried miles into the atmosphere by helium balloons, Baumgartner, a professional daredevil, made his ascent in a roomy capsule. In contrast, Eustace dangled directly from his balloon in a specially designed spacesuit. Where Baumgartner initiated his descent by stepping dramatically from his suspended pod, Eustace, like a good engineer, freed himself from his balloon with the aid of a "small explosive device."
One of the more obvious distinctions between the jumps is the publicity each has (or hasn't) received. Baumgartner's jump was aggressively sponsored to the tune of millions of dollars, and widely publicized in the weeks and months leading up to the attempt. Eustace, however, prepared for his fall, which appears to have been self-funded, in more or less total secrecy. In 2011, he approached Paragon Space Development Corporation about creating a life-support system that could make a fall from the fringes of the stratosphere possible. When Google offered funding support, he denied it, "worried that his jump would become a marketing event." For three years, he managed to keep the jump completely off the public radar.
Until this morning, that is. "It was a wild, wild ride," said Eustace.