How Did Engineers Accomplish a Jump from the Stratosphere?

Alan Eustace discusses his jump from the stratosphere and spacesuit design considerations.

Alan Eustace had a burning question in his mind: Is it possible to explore the stratosphere? 

He had always been fascinated with space and the stratosphere, from the temperature variation to the quick pass that astronauts made through the zone during a landing. In October 2014 he jumped from 135,980 feet to break the world record for high altitude jumping.

In his TED Talk, I Leapt from the Stratosphere. Here’s How I Did It, Eustace discusses the challenges and inspirations that led to his world record accomplishment. 

Eustace took inspiration from a scuba suit while working with the Paragon Space Development Corporation. The suit needed to be self-contained to protect the user and provide clear visibility. 

ILC Dover was chosen to build the suit – as veterans of the Apollo program, they had never sold a space suit to a commercial customer.

The suit offers several layers of protection. If the main parachute fails during the jump a reserve parachute will open automatically. Water is heated and circulated through the suit to keep the user warm. Two oxygen tanks are inside the suit to maintain pressure in the unlikely event that the suit is punctured.

Alan shows a video of the launch prep and the actual ascent and descent during this talk. It’s amazing to see the darkness of space and the curvature of the earth from his onboard cameras and realize that he was in the stratosphere with just 500 pounds of spacesuit to protect him. 

The video of the drop is incredible as Eustace spins and gains speed, escalating to 822 miles per hour. He used a drogue parachute to stabilize himself and says that the release was the most critical part of the jump. 

He then demonstrates the innovations made to the drogue parachute that eliminated the concerns about tangling during the chute deployment.

This entire talk is great to watch and Eustace is a very engaging speaker with the right mix of wonder, humility and ambition. This jump not only puts him in the record book but also gives the world a huge amount of data that can be used as we move forward with commercial space exploration.