Alan Eustace is a senior Google executive who in 2014 broke the world record for the highest parachute jump.
What goes up must come down, but simply reaching the Earth's stratosphere was the first challenge for Alan Eustace. It took more than two hours to ascend 25 miles and around 15 minutes to parachute back to Earth, at times travelling faster than the speed of sound. Previous explorers used complicated platforms and capsules. Mr Eustace used a balloon and a very special suit.
What was really unique about this was we tried to build a space suit which was equivalent to scuba diving, where the tanks were included, so I didn’t have to disconnect from the capsule, I didn’t have to have a heavy capsule to go up, all I had to do was like scuba diving. I just went up in a suit in an environment that was capable of sustaining me during a period of time.
That suit is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Virginia, home to many other artefacts of space exploration which in the 1960’s inspired Mr Eustace.
Everyone I know dreamed of being an astronaut and everybody I know dreamed of being above the atmosphere to be able to look at curviture of the Earth, the darkness of space, the beautiful thin atmosphere. I guess in my case that dream never really went away, even at 57 years old I’m still dreaming.
Remarkably, the record-breaking suit was made relatively cheaply, using existing technology and materials. Mr Eustace and his team simply discovered new ways to apply it, such as how to heat thermal underwear with a water system.
The hot water circulates around my chest and then on my legs and then goes back to be reheated.
Why did you need to keep warm?
Because it’s cold out there. The higher that you go through the troposphere, the colder it gets, and eventually it will get up to -110, 120°F.
And Mr Eustace, a keen skydiver and pilot, didn’t have to spend years at NASA learning how to be an astronaut.
So can anyone do this? Can I do this?
You can certainly do this. The way we design the system was, you know, if everything went wrong, if I was unconscious, they had to be able to get me from 135,000 feet down to the ground safely if I did nothing. So, if you’re capable of doing nothing, I think you can do it.
With many sights set on the Moon and Mars, the Earth’s stratosphere remains largely unexplored, but this suit or something like it puts it within reach of scientists, and one day it might even be adapted to bring people back from the International Space Station.
How are you doing?
I am tired but healthy.
Jane O’Brien, BBC News, Virginia.