Stratospheric explorer pushes students to fly to new heights

Aviva Futornick, Staff Reporter

Twenty-six miles, 15 minutes, 821 miles per hour and another layer of the Earth’s atmosphere: Alan Eustace made history on Oct. 24, 2014 after making the world’s highest freefall. Eustace spoke at Sequoia Jan. 29 to talk to students about his journey out of this world.

“[I thought] what would it be like to hang out in the stratosphere and take in the beautiful sights of the Earth,” Eustace said.

Stratospheric explorer, retired Google executive and daredevil Eustace holds the world records for highest-altitude free-fall jump and total free-fall distance after free-fall jumping from the top of the stratosphere. Eustace’s wife, Kathy Kwan, is friends with principal Sean Priest, which allowed Eustace to come to Sequoia.

“When you love someone enough you have to let them have their adventure,” Kwan said. “For us it was more like the biggest mid-life crisis ever.”

Eustace decided to pursue the jump in 2011 after combining his three specialties, flying planes, engineering and skydiving. Working with World View Experience, a company created by several people who assisted on his flight, a life support system was created so Eustace could still breathe pure oxygen. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in India then created a balloon for Eustace to make his ascent in.

“There’s a lot of science to it… for me I just wanted to see if it was possible,” Eustace said.

To complete this journey, Kwan had a few tasks for Eustace to complete. He had to first complete his will, write his own obituary and make a video to his kids explaining why he wanted to do that if anything had happened to him.

Departing from an abandoned runway in Roswell, New Mexico, Eustace began his approximately two-hour ascent, in the early morning of Oct. 24, 2014. Eustace reached a maximum altitude of 135,908 feet, a little over 25 miles and reached peak speeds of 821.45 mph during his 15-minute descent.

Eustace’s ultimate achievement, to be able return human beings from the edge of space using only a minimal life-support system, created a new era of balloon-based space tourism, where have ordinary people a chance to take part in this record-breaking feat.

“I’ve been a skydiver since I was 13, a pilot since I was 25 and an engineer my whole life,” Eustace said. “I just thought it would be fun.”