Wearing a space suit designed and manufactured by ILC Dover, Frederica, Del., Google executive Alan Eustace set new skydiving records Oct. 24 when he jumped from a helium-filled scientific balloon 135, 908 feet above Earth’s surface, breaking the sound barrier and hitting a top speed of 822 mph during his four-and-a-half-minute freefall above southern New Mexico. The suit was developed over a period of three years under contract to Paragon Space Development Corp., Tucson, Ariz., the company that managed the excursion and also produced Eustace’s life-support equipment.
Made from several different materials, including nylon, Ortho-Fabric, polyester and Vectran®, the full-pressure suit protected him from vacuum effects and extreme temperatures—which at one point dropped to -101 degrees Fahrenheit. Eustace received thermal protection from materials that resisted radiation and convective heat transfer. He wore an undergarment that flowed warm water through tubes close to his skin, and had resistive heaters in his gloves. Whip-stitched abrasion patches on his elbows and knees, along with a Lexan™ double-bubble helmet helped protect him as he landed.
Numerical control (NC) material cutting, hand sewing, adhesive bonding and radio-frequency heat sealing were used to manufacture the suit. Some parts, such as the gloves and sections covering the forearms, were designed using a software program that created a 3D image of the piece and then unfolded it into flat patterns to be cut out. Once complete, the suit underwent drop tests from various altitudes using both dummies and test subjects. Eustace was also put inside a thermal vacuum chamber to experience the environment and make sure the suit was comfortable.