So over the weekend, a 57-year-old senior vice-president at Google managed to break Felix Baumgartner’s world record for the highest-altitude skydive.
Whereas the world was watching when ‘Fearless Felix’ dropped in on the Red Bull Stratos project, few people even knew that Alan Eustace’s jump, made from a full 135,889.108ft, was happening at all.
Baumgartner was a well known daredevil prior to his jump. Eustace was a computer scientist, and with all respect, he looks more like one of those dads who won’t let their kids out past ten than the kind of guy who would take a tumble from the stratosphere.
So just who the hell is this space-leaping madman, and how did he decide to set about breaking the speed of sound? We blew the dust off the archives and had a search for some answers…
From Pine Hills To Three Degrees And A P.H.D
Born in 1956 to an engineer father, Alan Eustace grew up in Pine Hills in Orlando, Florida.
The guy may have gone on to break badass records and make millions with Google, but his early jobs included selling peanuts at the age of 11 and fixing motors and pumps for the city of Orlando.
The skydiving expert took a love for flight at a young age though. His family used to crowd around to watch every launch from Cape Canaveral, the US hub for spacecraft launching, and Alan clearly took an interest that only continued to grow.
The Google senior Vice President has “a reputation in Silicon Valley for thrill-seeking”…
Eustace graduated from high school in 1974 and received a debate scholarship from Valencia College, where he studied for a year before transferring to Florida Technological University.
There, he chose to major in mechanical engineering, and, according to the Orlando Sentinel, “worked part-time selling popcorn and ice cream in Fantasyland and working on the monorail system” to pay for classes. Fair play to the guy.
Eustace soon switched majors to computer science though – despite an advisor telling him there was ‘no future’ in the industry – and went on to complete three academic degrees in the field, including a doctorate in 1984.
Entering The Google Search Engine
After graduation, Eustace worked for a variety of electronics companies over a 15 year period, working on internet performance, power management and tonnes of other cool shit we don’t understand.
The adrenaline-seeker then joined Google in 2002, four years after its creation, as a Vice President of Engineering.
Alan has now risen to become the Vice President of the ‘Knowledge Department’ at Google, which means he oversees the search function for the company – arguably one of the more important tasks.
We can only assume that since Google knows everything in the world, Alan Eustace is also blessed with similarly omniscient powers, and has Google Maps inbuilt in his brain.
For his efforts at the company, Eustace earns a fair bit of cash. Reports indicate that he is one of the top-paid executives at Google, and that he earned a cool $12 million in 2010.
That explains how he paid for the space jump then. The project was self-funded, with no help from Google, Red Bull or any other corporation. No marketing strings or promotion pushing. Just a man jumping from space because he fancied a thrill.
It’s also worth noting that Alan has helped start up some pretty awesome community projects – like the Second Harvest Food Bank, which feeds more than 37 million people in America.
The Thrill of the Flight
So all of the above is pretty impressive. This guy has more degrees than a protractor and he’s also one of the top employees at one of the biggest companies in the world.
But that doesn’t exactly explain how or why he went about jumping from the edge of the stratosphere.
Well, although he may be a highly acclaimed computer nerd, Eustace is also known for his love for adrenaline. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Eustace describes himself as an engineer first… [But] he’s got a reputation in Silicon Valley for thrill-seeking.”
If that is indeed the case, we can only imagine that Alan walks through the corridors of Google with both men and women swooning as he goes. Silicon Valley is a pretty cool place to be carrying such a reputation.
The executive-turned-superhero is a veteran aircraft pilot and parachutist as well, often piloting Cessna planes, and he also holds a hot air balloon license, because, well… why the hell not.
That should give you a bit more insight into the man behind the records then, but how exactly did he go about completing the jump?
The Big Leap
You may not have heard anything about this jump in advance, nor even in the minutes or hours after the dive had been completed, but for Eustace, the feat had been on the cards for the past three years.
In 2011, the American decided to start prepping for the gargantuan space dive that would take the world by storm and completely steal the limelight from Felix Baumgartner.
Eustace met with leading scientist and researcher Taber MacCallum when he decided to get the project started, and MacCallum’s company, Paragon Space Development Corporation, created a life-support system which let Eustace breathe pure oxygen during his climb and fall. It basically made the trip possible.
After working for three years with the technologists, it was time to turn preparation into action on October 24 2014.
The skydive-mad Google exec launched his mission from an abandoned runway in Roswell, New Mexico, attached to a balloon packed with 35,00 cubic feet of helium.
Imagine what your voice would sound like if you inhaled all that. Anyone remember Mika by any chance?
We can imagine that you might be a bit distracted when you’re falling at over 841mph…
Anyway, Eustace’s spacesuit didn’t have a cooling system, he didn’t have a space capsule ala Red Bull Stratos and he didn’t have millions of people watching live on YouTube.
He did make waves however. After flying 135,908ft (25.740 miles) above the Earth, Eustace dropped straight into the record books for achieving the highest altitude skydive, the highest vertical speed and the furthest distance for a freefall.
It took Alan two hours to reach his drop point, but the skydiver would go on to hit 841mph and break the speed of sound on his 15 minute trip back down, letting off a small sonic boom in the process.
Whether someone will step up to take on Eustace’s record remains a mystery, but one thing is for sure – there will a lot of shocked people on October 24…
While the boom was heard by the team on the ground, the skydiver admits he couldn’t pinpoint the moment or hear it when it happened. To be fair, we can imagine your mind might be on other things when you’re falling at 841mph.
Whether the Red Bull team or any new challenger will step up to take on Eustace’s record remains a mystery, but one thing’s for sure – there were a whole lot of folk that were very surprised when they flicked on the news on October 24.
A Google executive, a leading computer scientist, and now a world record-holder of global fame. Alan Eustace certainly has one CV that you wouldn’t turn away in a hurry.