Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Building, building; a slow, careful assembly of the life-support equipment that will allow me to explore the stratosphere!

Now, about that exclamation mark: lately I wrote a piece, about exploring the Vatnajokull ice cap years ago, and it was laden with exclamation marks; one reviewer told me: "Honestly, Cam, lay off these punctuations,"...and to a degree, I agree, most of the time I don't need them. But sometimes I don't want to move so carefully and slowly, sometimes life isn't that way, and sometimes exclamations, well, I mean them to leap out off the page, even if that's a little embarrasing, just as though I were sitting there with the reader, getting so animated and excited by my recollections that yes--it's a little embarrassing how thrilled I become and how it animates me. Can't worry about that (though I will dial back on the !'s).

Regarding assembly of my flying machines; good progress recently; first, a sketch of my breakdown of a SCUBA breathing regulator, first simply to understand it, and then to identify whether or not I can convert it for use in very low, high-altitude pressures (near-vacuum):

Conclusion: the demand regulator, while containing some delicate elements, is essentially simple, and I can convert it for my uses. Doing this will be straightforward, but of course I'll want to test the unit before going up. To do that, I need to build a small vacuum chamber, large enough to hold the regulator and the overpressure / exhaust valve that also needs to be installed. That starts with another drawing:

...followed by assembling the chamber, seen here near completion, though the vacuum pump is malfunctioning and needs looking into:

Finally, a schematic sketch of the pressure garment, with miscellaneous notes to self, and specific model numbers for various parts; each manufacturer and model number has been selected over months of research...Now the fun part: buying and building!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

GSH6a Diagram

I've obtained diagrams and a technical manual for the pressure suit helmet, but there are some things I'd like to know that I can't make out in time images alone (one, below); I need a technical Russian translator!

Work continues: I'm installing a pressure gauge now, then working on the gloves.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Functions of Fear

Regarding my last post--I'd forgotten the value, and function of fear; to cause prudence; to cause caution; to cause self-preservation. I need to remember those functions, rather than let the sensation itself work on my psyche (note that Cicero classified more than a dozen types of fear, but for the moment I'm subsuming them all within the one word):

Thanks, Flynn, for the reminder!

Below, Philippe Petit walks the wire in Australia, from the most inspiring film I know, "Man on Wire". This man, without fear, would not have accomplished what he did; he would have dashed out onto the wire without a care. Rather, fear guided him to spend a year of preparations.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I am consumed, obsessed, with fears; I can barely sleep. Am I setting myself up for a quick suicide mission by building my own pressure suit, and trying to use that to
sustain my life in a balloon ascent to the lower stratosphere?

On the one hand, a pressure suit is a relatively simple piece of equipment--people have been building these garments for over 70 years--and I think I've built a functional suit that will sustain me to 50,000 feet altitude.

On the other hand, one very small mistake, in this stage of my preparations, could kill me.

So, I move very slowly & carefully, and I try to get some sleep.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Further Footage of November Pressure Suit Test

A bit more footage of that first test:

And a still photo of the whole rig:

I've learned a lot from researching and building this suit, and now it's on to building further suit components and refining the design. Busy, busy, tonight at writing group, tomorrow all day at the Portland Garment Factory, where I'll be consulting with Britt Howard on custom production of a few of the suit elements (specifically the fireproof coverall) that I don't feel confident to take on myself.

Still on crutches...a unique way to locomote!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

"Nothing will ever quite equal that moment of total hilarity that filled my whole body at the moment of take-off...it was not mere delight. It was a sort of physical ecstasy...

Such utter calm.

Such immensity!

[Afterwards] someone asked me, 'what's the use of a balloon?

I replied, 'What's the use of a newborn baby?'"

Dr. Alexandre Charles, on his first balloon ascent, near Paris, in 1783.

Friday, January 8, 2010


A thrilling discovery--I can detect her thrill, as well as her caution regarding such a discovery-- in Caroline Herschel's diary, August 1786:

August 1st 1786. 9 hours 50 mins. I saw the object...like a star out of focus while the others were perfectly clear...I have calculated 100 nebulae today, and this evening I saw an object which I believe will prove tomorrow to be a Comet.

August 2nd. Today I calculated 150 nebulae. I fear it will not be clear tonight, it has been raining throughout the whole day...1 o'clock. the object of last night IS A COMET.

August 3rd. I did not go to rest until I had written to Dr. Blagden and Mr. Aubert to announce the Comet.

August 5th. I calculated nebulae all day...paid the smith. The night was tolerably fine and I SAW THE COMET.

From Richard Holmes' terrific book, The Age of Wonder.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Three Books

Three books to write this year; one contract signed, two in the works.

"The Fact of Evolution", for Prometheus, will walk the reader through the process of evolution, showing--in the clearest terms--that evolution is a fact of the natural world.

"Distant Lands Unknown: The Evolution of Homo extraterrestrialis", for _____________ , will argue that humanity must migrate off of our home planet if we wish to survive as a species.

"The Frost Giants", for __________, will be the wild narrative of my solo expeditions on Iceland's Vatnajokull Ice Cap.

With these commitments--and flying as much as possible this year in preparation for the next Alaska expedition (nine months and counting!), and continuing work on the High Altitude Ballooning Project [and, oh yeah, teaching]--there is not a moment to lose!