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'Near-Space Dive' Sets New Skydive Record, 25 Miles Above Earth

Google vice president Alan Eustace is lifted by a balloon into the stratosphere, in a record-breaking skydive over New Mexico Friday.
Google vice president Alan Eustace is lifted by a balloon into the stratosphere, in a record-breaking skydive over New Mexico Friday.

Only two years after it was broken, the world record for the highest skydive has been rewritten. Google executive Alan Eustace set a new mark Friday when he fell from an altitude of more than 135,000 feet, plummeting in a free-fall for about 5 minutes before deploying his parachute. The jump broke the record of 127,852 feet that Felix Baumgartner set in 2012.

"It was beautiful. You could see the darkness of space and you could see the layers of atmosphere, which I had never seen before," Eustace told The New York Times.

Eustace, a 12-year veteran of Google who is also an experienced skydiver and pilot, was carried to the record height by a helium-filled balloon developed by the Paragon Space Development Corporation. After he took off Friday morning in a field near Roswell, N.M., he needed about 2 1/2 hours to reach his record height, which Paragon calls "near-space."

NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports:

"The Google vice president used a high-altitude balloon to travel to more than 25 miles above the Earth's surface — so high he needed a space suit. When he reached his target altitude, a small explosive device fired, cutting him free and sending him plunging toward earth.

"Eustace reached top speeds of over 800 miles per hour. He was going so fast that his body broke the sound barrier, creating a boom that could be heard on the ground."

Eustace's main parachute opened at 18,000 feet, Paragon says.

The company also provided details about the balloon that was used to ferry the skydiver up to the stratosphere:

"This 11 million cubic foot balloon stood almost 400 feet high at launch and, at maximum altitude, is 275 feet across. Even though Alan's balloon held 11 million cubic feet at the maximum altitude it only contained about 30 thousand cubic feet at launch. Of course it expanded enormously as the balloon rose and air pressure lowered."

We've posted video of Eustace's record-setting skydive above, and we'll keep an eye out for more footage. Baumgartner's 2012 jump was sponsored by the GoPro camera company, which earlier this year posted stunning footage of his record-setting leap.

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