In 2012 Felix Baumgartner broke the world skydiving record in his highly publicized Red Bull Stratos event. With the backing of million of dollars in sponsorship by Red Bull Baumgartner was taken aloft to the edge of space and set a new world skydiving altitude record by jumping from a height of 38,969 meters (128,000 feet)

People thought the record would be standing for years to come. But now, only two years down the line – the record has already been broken twice: once by Babbage the bionic teddy bear and once by google top executive Alan Eustace.

‘Ted Bull Stratos’ by Babbage the bionic Teddy Bear

In August 2013 a teddy bear named Babbage did the unthinkable. It went up in a helium weather balloon to the upper reaches of the atmosphere at a height of 39,000 meters – 31 meters higher than Baumgartner – and launched itself down back to earth. Babbage – known as the world’s bravest cuddly toy – was sent on this mission by Software programmer David Ackerman who decided to fly Babbage after watching a video of Baumgartner’s leap from space.

Babbage – dubbed ‘Ted Bull Stratos’ – was fitted with a Rasperry Pi (low cost) computer which shot photos of the flight and transmitted his position. Babbage travelled at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour and was very lucky not to be injured when his parachute tangled around his neck as it deployed.

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Ted Bull Stratos was the brainchild of  David Akerman, a high-altitude balloonist and Raspberry Pi-enthusiast who kitted out the cuddly toy (the mascot of the Raspberry Pi program) with the Pi acting as a flight control centre. The Raspberry Pi is a low-cost, credit-card-sized computer chip that contains everything a basic computer needs which sells for just £32 (around €40 or $50) and is highly programmable.

The Pi transmitted the bear’s position back to Akerman whilst shooting pictures and video from a camera fitted into its eye socket. The venture was also live-streamed from both the launch site and a designated chase car set to hunt down the bear.

Babbage was hooked into a ‘launch capsule’ kitted out, like Baumgartner’s, with an over-the-shoulder camera and then attached to a hydrogen-filled weather balloon and launched from a site near Mr Akerman’s home in Berkshire.

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“The launch and both recoveries were textbook,” Mr Akerman told The Independent. “There was little wind at the launch site, and both payloads landed in fields within 100-200 metres of a road.  The only issue really was that as Babbage was descending we lost 3G as my SIM card ran out of credit!  Fortunately we managed to add a top-up before we lost contact with Babbage.”

“I’ve been flying Raspberry Pi flight computers for just over a year.  The original one took about 2 days to put together and program.  For the Babbage flight I added a few things – like releasing him at 31 metres above Felix Baumgartner’s jump altitude and taking a video of the jump – and that took a couple of days [to program] too.”

The take-off took place at 12:25 on Sunday 26th with Babbage landing back on Earth at around 16:00.

Red Bull Stratos Ted Bull Stratos
Pilot Felix Baumgartner Bionic Babbage
Cameras Capsule and Suit Capsule and bionic eye
Budget £30,000,000 £300
Capsule Weight 1300 kg 200 g
Balloon Volume at launch 5000 m³ 3 m³
Jump Altitude 38,969 metres 39,000 metres

 


With his space adventure Babagge has joined the ranks of cuddly toys that have made it to the edge of the world. Others include a French Dad who sent his kids favourite toys – Hello Kitty and Bad Piggy – up to space & also a Dad who sent his kid’s favourite toy train up there.  

Google vice-president Alan Eustace goes to 41,419 metres

On 24 October, 2014 Alan Eustace, a senior vice president at Google, skydived safely back to Earth after jumping out of a giant balloon floating in the stratosphere more than 25 miles (40 km) above New Mexico.

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After nearly three years of intense planning, development and training, Eustace began his ascent via a high-altitude, helium-filled balloon just as the sun was rising.

It took more than two hours to hit an altitude of 135,890 feet (41,419 metres), from which he separated himself from the balloon and started plummeting back to Earth.

Eustace wore a specially designed spacesuit, beating both Felix Baumgartner’s and bionic Babbage’s previous records. Eustace hit a top speed of 822mph during a freefall that lasted four-and-a-half minutes.

Eustace’s supersonic jump was part of a project by Paragon Space Development Corp. and its Stratospheric Explorer team, which has been working secretly for years to develop a self-contained commercial spacesuit that would allow people to explore some 20 miles above the Earth’s surface.

alan-eustace-1024 (Small) alan-eustace3 (Small)

The technology that has gone into developing the balloon, the spacesuit and the other systems that were used in Eustace’s launch will be used to advance commercial spaceflight, namely efforts by Arizona-based World View Enterprises to take paying tourists up in a high-altitude balloon and luxury capsule starting in late 2016.

 Jim Hayhurst, director of competition at the United States Parachute Association, was the jump’s official observer. He said Eustace deployed a drogue parachute that gave him incredible stability and control despite the massive Mach 1.23 speed reached during the freefall.

Eustace did not feel it when he broke the sound barrier, but the ground crew certainly heard the resulting sonic boom, Hayhurst said.

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