14 MINUTES FROM EARTH (2016, doc)

14-minutes Greetings again from the darkness. The audience for this documentary is probably every after-school Science club, although most anyone with a sense of wonder will find it interesting enough. Four directors (Jerry Kobler, Adam “Tex” Davis, Trey Nelson, Erich Sturm) combine to present visual proof of a middle-aged Google executive reaching for the stars … or more accurately, pursuing his dream of free-falling from the stratosphere.

The film begins with an introductory and basic overview of the stratosphere being one of five layers to Earth’s atmosphere – and the most difficult to access and study. Tribute is paid to Felix Baumgartner, the Austrian skydiver, who in 2012 set the exit altitude record for his jump from the stratosphere. It’s at this point we are introduced to Alan Eustace, the Google executive who wishes to go higher/fall farther than Baumgartner

For the next couple of years, Eustace and his team of brainiacs discuss, draw, develop, calculate, re-calculate and test their many theories and concepts on how to bring the project to life. To paraphrase Matt Damon’s character in The Martian, they science and technology the sh## of out of this.

Developing a space suit, a specialized parachute, a balloon the size of a football stadium, and the necessary equipment to take Eustace up and get him back is actually a pretty fascinating project to follow … especially the errors and mistakes. The human element is never far away, and just to make sure we know that, Eustace’s wife makes a couple of appearances.

When you or I catch a flight from Chicago O’Hare to LAX, our plane’s altitude probably reaches about 35,000 feet. Imagine going up another 100,000 feet (almost 25 miles above Earth’s surface) and then being dropped with an experimental parachute … now you understand the Eustace dream.

As interesting as the details are, it’s unfortunate there isn’t more of a scientific discovery aspect to the project and the story. It’s mostly just some rich Google dude pursuing a hobby that you and I would never consider. As viewers, we are rewarded with some spectacular and rare photographic evidence of the mission, and a part of our atmosphere that we wouldn’t ordinarily see. One of the quotes about Eustace is his commitment to the Google way … “We believe in the impossible”. So it’s refreshing to know that in this day and age, there are still pioneers and risk-takers, and the technology exists to record it all.


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