Skydiving from the edge of space

In May 8, 2013, Alan Eustace, then the 56-year-old senior vice president of knowledge at Google, jumped from an airplane 18,000 feet above the desert in Coolidge, Arizona. Anyone watching would have witnessed an odd sight: Eustace was wearing a bulky white space suit—the kind NASA astronauts wear. He looked like a free-falling Michelin Man.

Through his giant space helmet and oxygen mask, Eustace could see the ground stretched out for miles. But the view wasn’t his main concern. He hadn’t quite worked out how to control the space suit, which, unlike a typical skydiving suit, weighed about 265 pounds and was pumped full of pressurized air. Eustace, an experienced skydiver, knew how to shift his body to change direction or to stop himself from spinning—a problem that, if uncorrected, can lead to blackout, then death. But when he started to rotate—slowly at first, then faster and faster—his attempts to steady himself just made things worse. He felt like he was bouncing around inside a concrete box.

He craned his neck to look around. The suit was still pressurized, which meant that he didn’t have enough flexibility to take his helmet off to breathe. He tried his radio again. Still dead. He knew the safety divers would have alerted rescuers that he’d gone off course. He just didn’t know how far off course he’d gone. He calculated that he had two hours of oxygen left in his tank. If he sat still and didn’t panic, he should have enough to survive until the rescue team found him. His other option was to try depressurizing the suit again. But if that didn’t work, he’d have wasted a significant amount of oxygen in the effort. He decided to wait until he had just 15 minutes of oxygen left. By that point, he would be desperate enough to try anything.

The sun beat down as Eustace lay by the cactus, watching the meter on his oxygen tank.

Twelve minutes and what felt like an eternity later, he heard the sound of an approaching helicopter. Oh good, he thought, relaxing. I’m nowhere near dead.

Which was fortunate, because this was only a practice round. What Eustace was gearing up for was something much more dangerous: a jump from seven and a half times the altitude, the highest ever attempted. A skydive from the edge of space.

Read more at The Atlantic.