Google Exec Hands Silicon Valley the Stratospheric Jump Record

Google’s Vice President of Search, Alan Eustace, has just smashed the altitude record for stratospheric skydiving. His liftoff was from Roswell, New Mexico is where the record was first set in 1960 by USAF Colonel Joseph Kittinger. (Credit: Paragon Space Development Corporation)

Just a little over two years since Felix Baumgartner broke USAF Colonel Joseph Kittinger’s stratospheric jump record, Alan Eustace from Google has independently smashed the high altitude skydiving record again. This brings home to Silicon Valley a record that might stand for a while. Eustace took a minimalist approach to the jump. His setup involved a helium filled balloon and just him hanging from the balloon in a spacesuit. Pure and simple, this permitted his system to reach 135,890 feet above the Earth, over 41 kilometers altitude, exceeding Baumgartner’s record by 7000 feet.

The simple design of his balloon launch might remind one of a bungy jump. This one maxed out at 822 mph and created a sonic boom. How can anyone break his record now? Can someone rise to a higher altitude? What is next for the Google high flyers? Will Baumgartner take this as a challenge to retake the record?

Balloon preparations for Alan Eustace's record flight at the Roswell airport in the early morning hours of Ocotber 24, 2014. (Credit: Paragon Space Development Corporation)
Balloon preparations for Alan Eustace’s record flight at the Roswell airport in the early morning hours of October 24, 2014. (Credit: Paragon Space Development Corporation)

The 57 year old Alan Eustace is a Senior Vice President at Google in its Knowledge department. He is a licensed pilot but not known for undertaking extraordinary feats of daredevil. Eustace grew up in Florida and recalls that his childhood was filled with trips to Cape Canaveral for NASA launches. Not a spur of the moment undertaking, Eustace had dreamt of accomplishing this feat and record for some time.

This is the third successful balloon skydiving jump from over 100,000 feet. All three have been accomplished from Roswell, New Mexico. Kittinger’s was in 1961, Baumgartner in 2012, and now Eustace in 2014. A fourth jump was undertaken in 1966 from a height of 123,000 feet but ended in failure and the death of the skydiver, Nicholas Piantanida.

The trip to the upper heights of the atmosphere took two hours. All this time he was forced to hang very still to avoid over-heating. His spacesuit had minimal ability to cool his body during the ascent. While the stratosphere reaches temperatures of 100 below zero, the atmosphere is exceedingly thin and body heat has no way to radiate away.

Eustace as he appeared in the first moments of his ascent. He maintained this posture throughout the 2 hour flight. (Credit: Paragon Space Development Corporation)
Eustace as he appeared in the first moments of his ascent. He maintained this posture throughout the 2 hour flight. (Credit: Paragon Space Development Corporation)

Without a capsule like Baumgartner and Kittinger before him, he relied solely on a spacesuit custom built by Paragon Space Development Corporation, a designer of life support devices. The simple design exceeded Baumgartner by over 7000 feet, nearly a mile and a half more. Eustace’s new record is approaching the maximum that has ever been achieved by any lighter than air craft, manned or unmanned.

The unmanned high altitude record for balloon flight was set in 2002 from Sanriku Balloon Center at Ofunato City, Iwate in Japan. This record stands at 173,900 feet. So there is plenty of room for record breaking but it will require pushing the limits of technology. In this day and age, there are many keen to push technological limits.

Alan Eustace now joins Google execs in high profile flight. H211 L.L.C. operates a Dornier Alpha Jet, owned and used by Mr. Page, Mr. Brin and the chief executive, Eric Schmidt, since 2007. The Alpha Jet is seen being taxiied on the Moffett field runway in Mountain View, CA. Insets show an Alpha in flight and Hangar One (a former Dirigble hangar from the 1930s) which H211 is planning to refurbish for NASA and to house their fleet of jets including the Alpha. (Credit: U.T./TRR)
Alan Eustace now joins Google execs in high profile flight. H211 L.L.C. operates a Dornier Alpha Jet, owned and used by Mr. Page, Mr. Brin, and the chief executive, Eric Schmidt, since 2007. The Alpha Jet is seen taxiing on the Moffett field tarmac in Mountain View, CA. Insets show an Alpha in flight and Hangar One (a former Dirigible hangar from the 1930s) which H211 is planning to refurbish for NASA and to house their fleet of jets including the Alpha. (Credit: U.T./TRR)

Google execs are no strangers to high flying. At Moffett Field in Mountain View, California, just a couple of miles from executive headquarters of Google, a small group of executives utilize a German made Dornier Alpha jet. Collaboratively with NASA Ames, the jet is flown by the execs and other experienced pilots to study the upper atmosphere and quite possibly to take in the views around the San Francisco bay area. They are often seen making touch n’ go’s at Moffett to maintain skills and certification. Google, the corporation, clearly showed its interest in space applications with the purchase of Skybox, a microsatellite builder, in June of this year for a reported $500 million.


Paragon StratEx Team

Google Subsidiary To Negotiate For Giant Eight-Acre NASA California Facility, Hangar One

A 1999 image of Hangar 1 taken in Moffett Field, Calif. Credit: NASA Ames Research Center

Back in late 2011, three Google executives reportedly approached NASA because they knew the agency was facing a problem. NASA was managing the eight-acre Hangar One, which is best remembered for being an airship construction facility 80 years ago. Renovations were getting expensive, though, and the executives had a proposal: it would take over the fixing-up, as long as they could park several private jets in the facility.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and after a competitive process Google real estate subsidiary Planetary Ventures LLC is going to negotiate on a lease with two goals: fix up Hangar One and manage Moffett Federal Airfield. If approved, the lease would remove the NASA Ames Research Center’s management costs.

It’s another example of NASA looking to lease out its historic facilities to the private sector (examples: here and here) to save money amid cost-consciousness by federal legislators, something that administrator Charles Bolden highlighted in a statement. “The agreement announced today will benefit the American taxpayer and the community around Moffett,” he said. “It will allow NASA to focus its resources on core missions, while protecting the federal need to use Moffett Field as a continued, limited-use airfield.”

An undated photo showing a blimp inside Hangar One. The facility began as a facility for airships in the 1930s. Credit: NASA Ames Research Center
An undated photo showing a blimp inside Hangar One. The facility began as a facility for airships in the 1930s. Credit: NASA Ames Research Center

Lease terms are still being negotiated, but these are some of the things expected to be a part of it: rehabilitating Hangars One, 2 and 3, fixing up a golf course, starting a public use and educational facility, and getting rid of NASA’s operation and maintenance cost of the area, among other things. In a press release, NASA did not give a date as to when these negotiations would conclude.

As Wired points out, this is an indication that Google and NASA are becoming trusted partners in ventures such as this. “It underscores the increasingly tight relationship between Google and the space agency research center, located just three miles from Google’s headquarters,” wrote Robert McMillan. “Google has already leased more than 40 acres of NASA Ames space to build a 1.2-million-square-foot R&D facility, and the company is working with NASA to test the world’s first quantum computer at Ames too.”

You can read the request for proposals and other information on Hangar One at this NASA website.

Space Shows Up Prominently in What the World Searched for in 2013

A view outside the cupola of the ISS. Credit: NASA.

For the past 13 years, Google has put together their annual “Zeitgeist” lists — “signs of the times” as to what people around the world were interested in, as registered by the internet’s largest search engine. In this compilation video, released by Google today, you’ll see space exploration and astronomical events show up several times. At :17 in the “New Frontiers” section with Voyager 2 entering interstellar space; at :45 the Chelyabinsk meteor flashes across the screen, at :53 the Kirobo robot shows up, at 1:13 Curiosity rolls across Mars, and at 1:14 you can look out the cupola windows of the International Space Station in the “Inspiration” section. You can see what trended in the various charts here.

Google’s 2012 Year in Review Includes Space Highlights

Even though this is a promotional video by Google, it is a great review of 2012, good and bad. And there’s a plethora of space-related events and people featured. Look for: Felix Baumgartner’s jump, SpaceX’s Dragon launch, the search for the Higgs Boson, space shuttles, Curiosity’s landing, Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride, Ray Bradbury, the International Space Station, solar eclipse, and more.

As the Very Short List folks said, this video is “also an inspired reflection of our collective hopes, dreams, fears, and desires.”

Explore the Stellar Neighborhood with New Milky Way Visualization

Screenshot from 100,000 Stars

Want to explore the Milky Way? A new visualization tool from Google called 100,000 Stars lets you take a tour of our cosmic neighborhood, and with a few clicks of your mouse you can zoom in, out and around and do a little learning along the way. Zoom in to learn the names of some of the closest stars; click on the names to find out more information about them.

Playing with it is great fun, and I’ve been experimenting with it for a while. The most important caveat about 100,000 Stars is that you need to run it in Chrome. It’s from the Chrome Experiment team, and it uses imagery and data from NASA and ESA, but the majority of what you are seeing are artist’s renditions.

The best way to get started is to click on the Take the Tour in the upper left hand corner.

But if you just want to zoom in, you can see the closest stars to us. The Sun is in the middle, and if you zoom in even further, you’ll see the Oort Cloud. Keep zooming in to find the planetary orbits (I was struck by how much zooming had to be done to get to the planets, giving a sense of scale).

It includes some nifty spacey-like music (provided by Sam Hulick, who video game fans may recognize as a composer for the popular space adventure series, Mass Effect) but if you’d rather explore in silence, hit your mute button.

What I enjoyed the most is moving my mouse up and down to see the 3-D effect of how everything fits together, providing a sense of the cosmic web that holds our universe together.

Check out 100,000 Stars

Google’s 5 Most Memorable Space Doodles

Google’s one of those tech companies that makes a big deal about space exploration.

There’s not only the Google Lunar X-Prize, or its maps of the Moon and Mars, or memorable April Fool’s pranks such as the lunar Google Copernicus Hosting Environment and Experiment in Search Engineering (G.C.H.E.E.S.E.)

The Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant often puts space front and center in its periodic “Google Doodles”, which are variations of its logo shown on the site. Google’s been pencilling those since 1998. Over the years the sketches have become more elaborate – and sometimes animated!

After reviewing the space doodles featured on Google’s Doodle site, here are five of the most memorable of them:

May 1-5, 2000 – Google Aliens series


This appears to be the first set of space-themed Google Doodles. The drawings are simple – for the most part, they show a UFO flying past or landing on the Google logo. Still, running them in a series over several days was smart, as it encouraged Internet users to visit the young search engine several days in a row to see what was happening next. More eyes on the page is always good for advertising.

Jan. 15, 2004 – Spirit lands on Mars

Mars landings are always big media events, and NASA was in the midst of a bonanza of attention in 2004 as both Spirit and Opportunity successfully touched down on the Red Planet. Thousands of Google users would have been searching out the rovers’ latest exploits. Commemorating Spirit’s landing in a doodle, just as that excitement was at a fever pitch, was a great way for Google to highlight the ability for users to seek out information about the rovers on its own site.

Aug. 9, 2010 – Anniversary of Belka and Stelka spaceflight

The best Google Doodles are those that show you what you don’t know before. In this case, few outside the space community are likely aware of who Belka and Stelka were, and where their spaceflight fits in history. (They were among a series of animal flights flown in the 1960s to determine the risks of space travel to humans.) From Google’s perspective, running a doodle one needs to learn more about encourages users to click on it, generating more page views.

June 15, 2011 – Total lunar eclipse, featuring Slooh

This is a brilliant example of cross-promotion. Astronomy geeks are well-aware of Slooh, a site that turns telescopes to celestial events such as the recent Venus transit of the sun. Google brought the site to the masses through promoting Slooh’s June 15, 2011 lunar eclipse feed right on the home page; the colour of the moon in the logo changed as the eclipse progressed. Google also showed the eclipse on its YouTube channel and on Google Earth, and promoted the Slooh Android app (also hosted by Google.) Slooh mentioned Google’s participation on its own website, too.

Nov. 8, 2011 – Edmond Halley’s birthday

Commemorating Edmond Halley’s birthday is not unique in itself, as Google has singled out other astronomers for the honour – see Ruby Payne-Scott and Johann Gottfried Galle, for example. What makes this sketch memorable is you can barely see the “Google” logo in the doodle. This is a company that is so confident in its brand that it is willing to let its readers fill in the blanks by imagination. (Astute readers will notice Scott’s doodle follows the same principle, but Halley’s doodle did run first.)

What other doodles should Universe Today readers check out? Share your thoughts in the comments.

All images are from Google’s Doodle website.

Elizabeth Howell (M.Sc. Space Studies ’12) is a contributing editor for SpaceRef and award-winning space freelance journalist living in Ottawa, Canada. Her work has appeared in publications such as, Air & Space Smithsonian, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.,  CTV and the Ottawa Business Journal.

Kickstart Your DNA (And a Rover) To The Moon!

Omega Envoy, the non-profit research lab Earthrise Space, Inc.’s team competing for the Google Lunar X PRIZE, has launched a Kickstarter project to help fund a 4-axis CNC milling machine needed to continue development on their proposed lunar rover. CNC machines don’t come cheap, but in typical Kickstarter fashion Earthrise Space is offering incremental rewards to anyone who donates to their project — from mentions on their site to t-shirts, Moon globes and facility tours (and even 5-gallon tubs of duck sauce) and, if you’re lucky enough to have deep pockets and a desire to help a student training ground get their designs off the ground, you can even have your DNA sent to the Moon!

From the Google Lunar X PRIZE article:

For the first time in human history, individuals will have the opportunity to send a sample of their DNA to the lunar surface. For a pledged donation of $10,000 or more, ESI will collect your DNA sample, package it into a storage container mounted on the company’s Lunar Descent Vehicle and fly it to the surface of the moon where it will be preserved for all time.

“We are excited to be exploring new approaches for fundraising and for public engagement, including through the crowdsourcing Kickstarter platform,” said ESI’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Joseph Palaia. “We are hopeful that this Kickstarter project helps us to make significant progress towards our near-term fundraising goals, while also providing some incredible rewards for our supporters.”

With the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a total of $30 million in prize money is available to the first privately funded team to safely land a robot on the surface of the Moon, have that robot travel 500 meters over the surface, and send HD video, images and data back to Earth.

Of the 26 teams in the competition, ESI is one of only six teams which have been selected for a NASA Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data contract worth up to $10M. But the contract is awarded incrementally and a multi-axis CNC machine is needed to take their designs to the next level (and meet upcoming contract goals.) Donate to their Kickstarter project here.

At whatever level you contribute, know that you are helping students build real spacecraft, and you’re going to be getting some pretty amazing rewards as well! The students appreciate your support!

— Omega Envoy team, ESI

Find out more about ESI’s project on the Earthrise Space Inc. website, and check out the other Google Lunar X PRIZE competitors here.

Source: Google Lunar X PRIZE blog

Google Satellite

If you’ve spent any time on the internet, you’ve probably had a chance to use either Google Earth or Google Maps. Both of these tools allow you to see a satellite view of the Earth, and zoom right in to see your home from space. But is there a Google satellite to take these photographs?

Google doesn’t actually have a satellite of their own. Instead, they use images from a variety of sources and store them on their servers. These images come from NASA satellites, USGS aerial surveys, and satellite photos from commercial operators. Google has an exclusive contract with a company called GeoEye, which recently launched their GeoEye-1 satellite. This commercial satellite blasted off on September 6, 2008, and is capable of resolving images on the Earth down to a size of 0.41 meters.

So how can you use these images? The easiest tool to use is Google Maps. This is a web-based tool that lets you browse around satellite photos of the Earth. You can zoom in and out, and type in a specific address anywhere on Earth to go right there. It also has driving directions, and all kinds of features that you can turn on and off to give you more information – like local sightseeing highlights.

The other tool that Google has created is called Google Earth. Unlike Google Maps, you actually need to download Google Earth to your local computer; PC, Mac, Linux, and even on your iPhone. Once you have the application installed, you see a 3-D version of the Earth that you can spin around, zoom in and out. You can zero in to any spot on Earth and see the highest resolution images they have available. There’s also a big community of developers who have created additional views that you can install. This lets you see additional photographs, contour maps, etc.

We have written many articles about Google satellite views. Here’s an article about how Google’s satellite had a bird’s eye view of the Obama Inauguration, and here’s a tool for Google Earth that lets you track satellite debris.

We’ve also recorded several episodes of Astronomy Cast about satellites. Listen here, Episode 100: Rockets.

Meteor Shower Throws Over 100 Meteors per Hour


With over 100 meteors per hour, the Quadrantid Meteor Shower is one of the latest mergers between Google and NASA, a major asset to space research due to their successful combination of ideas and plans. This peak shower began around 0200 UTC on Friday morning, January 4th, with the jet owned by the founders of Mountain View-based Google flying amongst big science players, such as the SETI research team.

To see this spectacular sight and to partake in a scientific mission, Google carried a team of NASA scientists and their high-technology instruments on board the Google owned Gulfstream V jet, which left the Mineta San Jose International Airport on Thursday late afternoon about 4:30 p.m. Plans were made for a ten-hour flight over the Arctic, returning to home base when the meteor shower mission was accomplished with the resulting data.

The GOOG Stock Message Board is full of the things that Google has been doing to improve the world—a real biggie was to develop a cheaper solar, wind power for Earth—excellent idea from a company whose corporate motto is to “do not be evil.â€? That plan involved the creation of a research group to develop energy sources that was a cheaper renewable alternative which focuses on solar, wind and any other forms of power through the Renewable Energy “Cheaper Than Coalâ€? project. And of course, lowering Google’s power bill was top of the list before anyone else as a huge incentive.

Last September, as most are aware of, NASA and Google had launched a $2.6 million dollar agreement to let the Google co-founders house their aircraft at Moffett Field while NASA was to be allowed to use it for their science work, such as that of the Quadrantid Meteor Shower. Other prospective plans for Google are to hand out $30 million dollars to any company that successfully comes up with a plan to bring people to the moon. Another plan is to fund a space race through Google’s Lunar X Prize competition.

Original Source: NASA News Release