Alan Eustace, a 57-year-old computer scientist heretofore known for his work as a senior vice president at Google, has broken the world record for high-altitude skydiving, set just two years ago by Felix Baumgartner.
“It was amazing,” Eustace told the New York Times. “It was beautiful. You could see the darkness of space, and you could see the layers of atmosphere, which I had never seen before.”
Tethered to a helium balloon, Eustace took off on Friday morning from an abandoned runway in Roswell, New Mexico, and climbed to an altitude of 135,908 feet (25.7 miles) above the Earth’s surface, comfortably exceeding the 128,100-foot record set by Baumgartner in 2012. He then cut himself loose from his tether with a small explosive device and descended for a full 15 minutes, at one point falling at more than 800 miles an hour and setting off a sonic boom.
“It was a wild, wild ride,” Eustace said of the adventure, which he had been planning since 2011 without sponsorship funding. According to the Times, Google had offered support, but Eustace declined out of concern that the project would become a marketing event. He recruited a small group of engineers to design his space suit, life support system, and parachutes. The GoPro cameras and the radio he used to connect with team members on the ground were reportedly consumer grade.
A veteran pilot and parachutist, Eustace has admired space explorers since his childhood in Orlando, Florida, when he would watch takeoffs from nearby Cape Canaveral with his family. He has worked for Google since 2002.