Following Einar Enevoldson and Elizabeth Austin’s discovery that it high altitude mountain waves propelled by the Polar Vortex could reach over 130,000 feet Perlan Mission 1 was commissioned to answer three questions:
Where In the World?
It was understood that the necessary conditions for stratospheric mountain waves would only exist at very high latitudes in either the northern or southern hemispheres. But exactly where was yet to be determined.
Can a glider do it?
It was necessary to determine whether or not a glider could successfully transition from the lower wave structures generated by surface winds to the higher wave structures that interact with the Polar Vortex. This transition would need to take place at about 50,000 feet, higher than any glider had previously flown.
What systems will keep the pilots alive?
At 90,000 feet the conditions approximate what would be found on Mars. The aircraft and crew would be subjected to extremely low air pressure, low air density and temperatures approaching minus 70 degree Fahrenheit. What systems will be required to reliably support the crew?
From 1992-98, Perlan’s founder and NASA test pilot Einar Enevoldson collected evidence on a weather phenomenon that no one at the time even knew existed: stratospheric mountain waves.
Like huge ocean waves, these waves of air are kicked off by strong winds blowing over the tops of high mountain ranges like the Andes. These waves of air then shoot straight up towards space. As a pilot, Einar quickly figured out that you can use a glider to ride those waves all the way up to near space. And he set out to prove it. This became The Perlan Project.
In 1998 meteorologist Dr. Elizabeth Austin teamed up with Einar and expanded upon his findings proving that it is the stratospheric polar night jet and the polar vortex that are factors in sustaining these mountain waves allowing them to reach up to 130,000 feet (39,624 metres).
In 1999 Steve Fossett, the record-setting aviator, sailor, adventurer and first person to fly solo non-stop around the world in a balloon, decided to fund Perlan Mission I and became one of its pilots.
On August 30, 2006 Steve Fossett and Einar Enevoldson flew (Perlan Mission I) a modified DG-505m aircraft (Perlan 1), to 50,722 ft (15,460 m) breaking the previous record by 1,662 ft (507 m).
And they could have gone even higher!
The problem was that their pressure suits expanded so much inside the cabin that they could nt move the flight controls and safely control the aircraft anymore. Therefore, they came down, and quickly decided they needed a custom glider with a pressurized cabin.