In 2014, Alan Eustace floated 26 miles above the earth, dangling from a high- altitude balloon and protected by only a spacesuit. For years, travelers to and from outer space have passed swiftly through the atmosphere, but such voyages have left the stratosphere unexplored. Alan, a skydiver, engineer and pilot, was convinced that future explorers should be able to visit the stratosphere outside of a vehicle, protected only by special suits, much like ocean explorers do.
Extreme cold temperatures, space vacuum and out-of-control spinning during freefall all threaten a stratospheric explorer and skydiver. When Alan began this process, four aeronauts had ascended into the stratosphere with the intention of skydiving down. Two of them died in their endeavors. Alan used a suit system designed from scratch, the first since the 1970’s, and a totally unique stabilization system to bring him safely down. At the top of the stratosphere Alan found a unique layer of Earth’s atmosphere that should become a destination for explorers of the future.
Jared Leidich, a member of the team that designed and built the space suit recounts how a small group of engineers spent three years designing, building, testing, failing and starting over, until they built the system which carried Eustace safely to the edge of the black sky and back. This account describes how spacesuits, parachutes and high-altitude balloons work, as well as how engineers collaborate, invent, solve problems and manage the responsibilities inherent in building equipment to carry a person into the unknown. The Wild Black Yonder is an invitation to imagine the future of travel away from the planet–the missions, the craft, and the reasons for going.
Authored by Jared Leidich, Edited by Andy Wolaver and Nancy Casey, and Illustrated by Jenna Westbrook.