Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pressure Restraint Garment -- 2/3 Complete

I don't know how many hours I've spent thinking about and researching this system, but I do know that in the last three weekends I've spent five hours each building the main elements of the pressure restraint garment seaming together panels of a low-stretch mesh textile; the result is seen in the video clip;

Crazy! People might say (and have said), to which I can add; strange, wasteful, pointless, archaic, anachronistic, illusory, foolish (I've heard that more than a few times...the first time was in Iceland), juvenile, technocratic, anti-human....these are just a few of the reactions I've heard to this project and others that do not make a penny, but rather consume pennies, and does 'nothing' for humanity. I could not agree less with these evaluations. What is the point of flying this balloon, to see the world from a different perspective? What is its worth? Well -- what is the point of a painting or a drawing? What is the worth of a poem? Do we want to live in a world where only those things which make money, and are entirely rational, are done? And what of dreams? Some time ago a friend said that it was 'OK to dream' about space colonization. For me, that seriously and ignorantly devalues a dream. What was a poem before it was a dream? What was anything before it was a dream? Some will always see obstacles when anything other than the norm is presented -- what I see is an ocean;

"There is a density of being in a Dominican at prayer. He is never so much alive as when prostrate and motionless before his God. In Pasteur, holding his breath over the microscope, there is a density of being. Pasteur is never more alive than in that moment of scrutiny. At that moment he is moving forward. He is hurrying...Cezanne, mute and motionless before his sketch, is an inestimable presence. He is never more alive than when silent, when feeling and pondering. At that moment his canvas becomes for him something wider than the seas."

-- Antoine de St. Exupery1942, 'Flight to Arras' p.65.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Well, as I do my seaming for the suit, here is tonight's dreamy music, which tells me to keep on...keep on, no matter what!

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Now that the suit is holding the appropriate pressures, I can really move forward on the rest of the system. Today I used a series of crude straps to hold the pressurized suit to a chair, in simulation of how I'll be seated while flying the stratosphere balloon. As usual, this proof-of-concept test looks (and is, in fact) extremely crude, but equally instructive, in ways I can't get into, because I spend so much typing that I'm actually thinking of starting audio blog posts, which will just require me to talk into a digital recorder, and upload the file, rather than type!

In the photos, the suit fastened to the 'flying seat', using both nonelastic and elastic cords, which, in addition to the PRG (mentioned in earlier posts) will give the suit a comfortable, seated posture when pressurized. As I come to these solutions, I find that in many cases I'm arriving at precisely the same solutions that the Russian space program--which was in some important ways different from the American program, which was better-funded and better-informed--came to; employing common materials and an ethos of simplicity and robusticity, they devised uniquely simple but effective solutions in their own pressure suit building projects. What's most thrilling are the 'Eureka' moments, when, sitting at a coffee shop, or just riding the streetcar, my mind identifies a solution, which I rush home to prove with a prototype, followed by refinement and, ultimately, a 'flyable' solution.

As for the next month I'll be out in the field every day, with just a few hours each evening to work on the suit, my method now is 'relentless, incremental progress'; making at least one tiny deign element every day. Element by element, the system grows like a strange, integrated ecosystem!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Proof of Concept -- Pressure Restraint Garment SUCCESS!

Now that the neck seal issue--a two-year long odyssey finally solved by turning my thinking completely black-to-white, and making the pressure in the garment work _for_ me rather than against me--is 'cooked', I'm on to the next issue; the pressure restraint garment. The PRG is a coverall that is slightly smaller than the pressure bladder, so that when gas is pumped into the suit, and it blows up, the mechanical load is not taken by the bladder itself, but the PRG, the tight coverall. I've wrangled this problem for a while, and tonight's proof-of-concept test showed that with some intelligent seaming decisions, I can in fact build the PRG on my own, by hand. Therefore I'll only have the Portland Garment Factory work on the final coverall, a fireproof, insulating garment with the various pockets and attachments needed for safe flight.

In the photos, I've started to cannibalize my paragliding flight suit--a simple coverall (I'll just get another one for flying...they're only about $40 at a surplus store)--into the PRG; at first, slipping the legs over the pressure bladder, then tightening the coveralls over the pressure bladder with hand seaming, and then inflating the pressure bladder and seeing that my simple seams hold the pressure handily.

When I learned to seam heavy fabric by hand, using artificial sinew and heavy needles, to build the sails for our 20-ton sailing raft expedition in 1998, I had no idea that that skill--a familiarity with needles, seaming palms, artificial sinew, how to manage textiles under pressure, and so on--would ever be used again. But here I am, using exactly the same materials and techniques for a very different project!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Queen Tyie

An ancient Egyptian queen, sketched from a modeled bust.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Measurement of Mr. X

I never gave my Iceland or Alaska sleds a name -- I didn't feel I needed to, because I'd known them so intimately, right down to every millimeter and every bolt -- and in the same way I haven't named the pressure suit. But the other day I took the suit, which is now holding a life-sustaining 3+PSI steadily for hours at a time (yes! I solved the neck interface issue with diligence and attention to detail!) to the Portland Garment Factory, a business co-owned by one of my former anthropology students, Britt Howard. At the PGF, Britt and one of her employees, David Rafn, asked if the suit had a name; 'Mr. X' I now call the suit, which is still a bit strange as it will eventually be a protective barrier for me, just as protective as one's own organic skin...
In the photos, Britt and David are introduced to the suit as they consider its properties, and options for building its 'Pressure Restraint Garment', which will fit over the suit you see here; the 'PRG' will hold the pressure required for survival at 50k feet altitude.