Friday, March 27, 2009

Sewing Machines

A sewing machine, several thousand square feet of 1.3-oz sealed ripstop nylon, some drawings on paper, some calculations for volume, temperature, ascent and descent rates...the main components of building a hot-air balloon. For higher altitudes, say five or more miles up--where I plan to go, eventually--some special gear is needed to protect the human frame from increased solar radiation, from lack of oxygen, from decreased atmospheric pressure.

No matter, all the plans begin with my drawing pad, a ruler, a pencil, a calculator, a stack of reference books, a quiet--maybe rainy--night, and and a pot of coffee. Above, a contemplation of the barest crew accommodations I can imagine; simply a seat, a partial-pressure suit witha helmet delivering breathing gas froma liquid oxygen tank, and pilot-protecting, lightweight but durable, inflated impact rings for hard landings. Above, the burner (fed by the propane tanks) and above that, an experimental, simple cylindrical hot-air balloon envelope capable, by my numbers, of about five miles' altitude. One the upper left, a sketch of the balloon with crew below it, and below that, vital elements of the control panel.

Below, Angela makes a series of measurements to help in designing the various systems. I'm wearing thermal coveralls and a Soviet-made GsH6a pressure helmet. I'll be reconditioning and pressure-testing the helmet as I work on higher and higher flights.

As plans come together, I'll eventually build a website to cover this project, which is focused on going to high altitudes, for long periods, to experience and describe the Earth from a unique position.

But still, at least two more Arctic expeditions to do...preparations for those are coming along as well.

Merry, breezy spring, everyone!

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