On October 24th, 2014, Alan Eustace made history with a record breaking near-space dive from the stratosphere at 135,890 feet. Free-falling over 123,000 feet, he reached a speed of 821 mph (Mach 1.3) before slowing in the thickening atmosphere and parachuting safely to earth. The StratEx spacesuit and Balloon Equipment Module went on permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on December 15, 2016. It is an extraordinary honor for all of us who were directly involved in the project. The exhibit is in an area dedicated to stratospheric exploration, with the space capsules for the Breitling round-the-world mission and the Red Bull Stratosjump nearby. It is also just a couple of hundred feet from the Space Shuttle Discovery! There was a lovely celebration led by General Jack Dailey, Director of the museum, and featuring pilot Alan Eustace and co-founder of Paragon Space Development, Taber MacCallum. Colleagues from World View, Paragon (StratEx lead and launch system), ILC Dover (spacesuit), United Parachute Technologies, Performance Design (parachute system), and Nauticos (recovery team) attended as well as balloonist Julian Nott and Alan’s extended family.
“I always wondered: what if you could design a system that would allow humans to explore the stratosphere as easily and safely as they do the ocean?” Alan’s inspiration and technical leadership started the three-year project. He did not seek publicity, but rather strived to develop a self-contained spacesuit system that allows for manned exploration of the stratosphere above 100,000 feet. Such a system has a wide range of applications in stratospheric science, development of spaceship crew egress and the study of suited aerodynamics above Mach 1.
The team was led by Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter of Paragon, with Flight Director Sebastian Padilla, Launch Director John Strauss, PSA (Pressure Suit Assembly) Team Lead Jared Leidich, and Recovery Team Lead Dave Jourdan (Nauticos). Daniel “Blikkies” Blignaut led the parachute design team, and skydived from an orbiting aircraft to escort Alan to the ground. Dozens of other scientists, engineers, and technicians from around the world helped make the project an unqualified success.
A new book The Wild Black Yonder by StratEx team member Jared Leidich tells the stirring tale of the record-breaking project. It is an amazing story of imagination, exploration, engineering, perseverance, setbacks, successes, and teamwork.