The StratEx program used a self-contained space suit and balloon system to loft pilot Alan Eustace to a record-breaking altitude and skydive from 135,897 feet (41,422 m). After releasing from the balloon and a stabilized freefall, the pilot safely landed using a parachute system based on a modified tandem parachute rig. A custom spacesuit provided life support using a similar system to NASA’s (National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Washington, DC USA) Extravehicular Mobility Unit. It also provided tracking, communications, and connection to the parachute system. A recovery support team, including at least two medical personnel and two spacesuit technicians, was charged with reaching the pilot within five minutes of touchdown to extract him from the suit and provide treatment for any injuries. The team had to track the flight at all times, be prepared to respond in case of premature release, and to operate in any terrain. Crew recovery operations were planned and tailored to anticipate outcomes during this novel event in a systematic fashion, through scenario and risk analysis, in order to minimize the probability and impact of injury. This analysis, detailed here, helped the team configure recovery assets, refine navigation and tracking systems, develop procedures, and conduct training. An extensive period of testing and practice culminated in three manned flights leading to a successful mission and setting the record for exit altitude, distance of fall with stabilizing device, and vertical speed with a stabilizing device. During this mission, recovery teams reached the landing spot within one minute, extracted the pilot, and confirmed that he was not injured. This strategy is presented as an approach to prehospital planning and care for improved safety during crew recovery in novel, extreme events.
AntonsenEL. Crew Recovery and Contingency Planning for a Manned Stratospheric Balloon Flight – the StratEx Program. Prehosp Disaster Med.2016;31(5):524–531.