Silicon Valley chief’s meteoric rise… in just two hours!

The world knows too well of Google’s climb to fame… and fortune. But senior management executive (VP) Alan Eustace, at this renowned Silicon Valley company, can now proudly boast about the personal accomplishment literally under his belt. His daredevil feat yesterday has nothing to do with Google. The stupendous success with his “wild, wild ride”, going up into the stratosphere was certainly an engineering marvel, with meticulous teamwork, expert planning and execution; but it also speaks to human endeavors sans boundaries! Alan, congratulations!


Photo Courtesy: The New York Times

With his ascend to an altitude of 135,890 feet, Alan broke the record of 128,100 feet set by Felix Baumgartner two years ago on October 14, 2012.

Wearing a specially designed spacesuit with a life support system, this adventurer – a veteran aircraft pilot and parachutist –  took off at dawn from an abandoned, desolate airport runway near Roswell, New Mexico. Tied to a 35,000 cubic feet helium-filled balloon, the computer scientist ascended at a speed of 1600 feet per minute, reaching the stratosphere in a little over two hours. Marveling the darkness of space, he began his descent soon after, and what a free-fall from 25 miles above the surface of the earth! Alan Eustace did not hear nor feel the boom as he crossed the speed of sound. After releasing himself from the balloon with the aid of a small explosive that caused the boom heard by those on earth, he was climbing down at the rate of 822 miles per hour. The contraption designed by his technical team included a small parachute that opened up first; and four-five minutes later the larger, main parachute helped him glide back to earth. In case you’re wondering if Google Earth or any of Google’s multi-billion dollar operations had anything to do with this personal feat, then the answer is ‘no’. Despite Google’s offer to assist him, Alan was opposed to the idea. This was his own endeavor, not for the media to turn it into a marketing event.

Some others have endeavored similar flights… The story of Michael Fournier is also rather interesting. 🙂

Kudos to the spirit of adventure! As the director of competition at the United States Parachute Association has stated, “I think they’re putting a little lookout tower at the edge of space that the common man can share”. With, or without Google, Alan Eustace has made his mark in ‘search’… of space. 😉

Sports and silhouettes after sunset… California!

Sports and silhouettes after sunset… California!

Originally uploaded by chitralekhan

Heard of parasailing, paragliding, parachuting… now here’s some kitesurfing, or you may also hear of kiteboarding… a fine example of Extreme Sports… they’re such a pretty sight… awesome!

A story of human resilience… and society’s humaneness!

Tales of compassion, resilience towards life’s adversities, and stories of hope in the face of unthinkable challenges are always so fascinating… I just finished reading one such story, “The Hard and the Soft“, brought to us by op-ed columnist, David Brooks, of The New York Times. Speaking of Norway’s winnings at the recent Winter Olympics, he states that “This was no anomaly. Over the years, Norwegians have won more gold medals in Winter Games, and more Winter Olympics medals over all, than people from any other nation.” He cites the story of Jan Baalsrud, a young Norwegian in 1943, from the book, “We Die Alone” by David Howarth. (I should read this book.)

A while back we watched Akira Kurosawa’s epic-like film, “Dersu Uzala“, an Academy Award winner from 1975. Again, this was a riveting film, and I’m reminded of it today!

Returning to the spirit of Norwegians, is yet another compelling story of Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian zoologist — and later in 1922, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize — who ventured to go “Farthest North” to the North Pole… way back in 1893. This is the adventure narrative of a man who struggled with the most extreme forces of nature.

Undoubtedly, we hear, read, and watch stories of human survival through man-created atrocities and challenges. But those are for another day. For now, I silently congratulate not only those who succeeded and won medals at the Winter Olympics, but also those who toiled to make their way to the West Coast, Canada, this year. Kudos to you all!

$200,000 go up in thin air!

For those following this story, just imagine!

Today, Michel Fournier was going to make history if he broke the records by falling off from the stratosphere. Alas, the helium-filled balloon would have been worth every cent of the $200,000 (no error in the zeroes) it cost, if only… But in what seemed to be a bizarre accident, it took off skywards, leaving the dare-devil skydiver in a state of shock, right below, on Earth! One can only imagine the devastating effect on the man, when his dream of 20 long years got blown away – literally, just like that!

I do feel bad for the retired army Frenchman, as surely others passionate about this sport must also feel. Not only those, but also others – believers in the human strength, capability, and resolve – may also be saddened. We all hope that he will find a sponsor soon, to make good his loss, which may currently be his only tangible, impeding factor.

Monsieur Fournier, who knows, another day will soon dawn when your dream will be fulfilled. We wish you the very best for your ultimate success.

Michel Fournier… slated to break records by breaking through sound barriers.

What’s a 64-year old man planning to do with a phone-booth sized round capsule and a three-layered towering balloon? Well, he’s preparing to take-off, and make an ascent of 40 kilometers above the ground, seated in this capsule filled with pure oxygen (to be replaced with nitrogen when the door shuts). After a two and a half hour journey towards space, he plans to step out of the booth while he’s at the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere, and free fall, before he opens his helium balloon which will bring him back to Earth in 15 minutes. Take-off and landing are scheduled from the plains of Northern Saskatchewan. Exciting? You bet it is… He was scheduled to do this flight on Sunday – in what could be termed as a historic moment in skydiving and even in space science; it seems to be postponed to the early hours of this Monday morning. I blogged about this event a couple of days back and am now waiting with bated breath… for Michel Fournier, a retired French army officer to fulfill his dream, nurtured and fueled for 20 long years, an inspiring human feat – breaking records, coming down at break-neck speed that even breaks through sound barriers.

Oh, just moments ago, news has broken that a problem with the oxygen generator has compelled the balloonist to postpone his skydiving attempt until Tuesday, provided the weather will hold up; if not, folks, we’ll have to wait until the weekend.