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Google executive’s record-setting jump breaks sound barrier

In this Oct. 20 photo, Google executive Alan Eustace is shown before a test flight for his record-breaking leap Friday from the edge of space. (Associated Press)
In this Oct. 20 photo, Google executive Alan Eustace is shown before a test flight for his record-breaking leap Friday from the edge of space. (Associated Press)
Associated Press

ROSWELL, N.M. – Google executive Alan Eustace broke the sound barrier and set several skydiving records over the southern New Mexico desert early Friday after taking a big leap from the edge of space.

Eustace’s supersonic jump was part of a project by Paragon Space Development Corp. and its Stratospheric Explorer team, which has been working secretly for years to develop a self-contained commercial spacesuit that would allow people to explore some 20 miles above the Earth’s surface.

Friday’s success marked a major step forward in that effort, company officials said.

“This has opened up endless possibilities for humans to explore previously seldom visited parts of our stratosphere,” Grant Anderson, Paragon president and CEO, said in a statement.

The technology that has gone into developing the balloon, the spacesuit and the other systems that were used in Friday’s launch will be used to advance commercial spaceflight, namely efforts by Arizona-based World View Enterprises to take paying tourists up in a high-altitude balloon and luxury capsule starting in late 2016.

As more people head into the stratosphere, the spacesuits could be adapted for emergency rescues or other scientific endeavors, officials said.

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, at 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, Hayhurst said.

“He just said it was a fabulous view. He was thrilled,” Hayhurst said of his conversation with Eustace after he landed.

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