Saturday, September 24, 2011


A draft of something I'll be putting in the space book; not sure where, and it's just a draft (I'll end up editing it, probably, about four times), but there are important points that summarize some of the more important points of the book. Last 50 days of writing and editing now!

"There will always be people who feel that colonizing space will only transport our problems elsewhere. We prefer to be optimistic. The first colonists to arrive at Mars will look down on a world where not a single bullet has been fired, where not a single bomb has ever fallen from the sky. We think early colonists will be very aware of this. They might well prohibit such weapons entirely. Of course, a human being can always kill with their hands; that will not, we think, be solved. And a human being can make a weapon out of nearly any object, or even construct weapons in secret. But in a pristine world, we think, people will be determined not to repeat old madnesses, and they may be extremely intolerant of even the seeds of division, violence, and waste. In ancient Iceland, murderers and other criminals were banished to the wilderness, where life was nearly impossible. Similar rules may be enforced by early off-Earthers. And if things grow the wrong way on Mars--just as they might grow wrong on Earth even if we someday achieve universal peace--there would remain the solution that has been used by various human groups on Earth for millennia: social fission. In many cultures, it has been customary to relieve tensions by splitting up, an option almost impossible on Earth today. The science fiction writer Robert Heinlein wrote that "When things get so crowded that you need an ID, it is time to move. The great thing about space travel is that it has given us somewhere to move." For a long time, Mars will offer large landscapes for expansion; places to go if things turn badly.

And, of course, Mars is no end; one of our points in this book has been that human space colonization cannot be though of as an end, like landing on the moon nearly 50 years ago. Rather, it is a beginning. Eventually, people of Mars might want to move farther on; in fact, considering what we have learned about humanity in this book, that seems natural and inevitable, while challenging it seems unnatural. We feel that other places in the solar system, and eventually the galaxy, and eventually other galaxies, will all be explored, and some settled. Humanity, by this method of continual expansion, will have aligned itself with the nature of the universe, which is change. There is no utopia, because conditions change, and humanity itself changes. If there is a constant it is change and the evolution itself that adapts to that change. But for humanity to engage with this reality, we have to begin somewhere, and we argue that we should begin now. There will never be a best time to begin; it will always be argued that we have more pressing immediate concerns. But to focus on those immediate concerns could, in the end, cost us everything. In our daily lives, we invest heavily to protect our future, by buying insurance and minding our doings. Colonizing space will be nothing less than an insurance policy for our species and civilization. It is worth the cost and effort."

(c) 2011 by Cameron M. Smith

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Little Engine That...Couldn't

The poor little 3.8 liters per minute, 12vDC pump (small black item on the center testbed support) that I acquired to pump suit coolant through the liner suit just isn't up to the job. In my zeal to get the smallest, lightest and simplest pump available, I shot a bit low. Poor little bugger just whizzed and whined but could barely move the fluid (from the tall, clear cylindrical reservoir) though the coolant hose. I need a more powerful pump, and that's easy to get. This time I'll do a little more homework RE capacity to circulate. Small setback only, though, and again I've learned something.

The idea of the cooling system is simple; cool, non-freezing fluid (maybe antifreeze) is pumped from the reservoir through a port (that I'm holding in my hand), through tubing sewn in the suit liner, and then back out the same port and back into the reservoir. As the fluid moves through the tubing in my liner suit, it should pick up body heat and carry it outside to the very cold atmosphere, where it's cooled again, dumping that heat, before pouring back into the reservoir. I'd prefer a non-battery-reliant system, and I thought about a non-continuous manual pump (just work a lever to pump the fluid), but I figured in that event I'd just build more body heat by doing the manual pumping, so I'll stick with the 12vDC system for the moment. If I can figure out a way to find some 'free energy' based on movement of the balloon or other workings of the system, to pump fluid, great; but I haven't found that energy yet.

Looks like blogger has enabled some picture viewing 'feature' that, when you click on the image to enlarge, brings up a window with a smallish image! So, to see the image full-size, you have to save it to the desktop (on a mac) or right-click to 'view image' (on a PC), after which you click it *again* to see it full-size. Maybe I can turn that 'feature' off...I'll look around.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Crater Map

Another illustration draft for the space book; a selection of the best-known impact craters on planet Earth. Over millions of years, many impact craters--from space objects such as meteorites--have been eroded away by wind and water, giving humanity a false image of the Earth as being relatively safe from space debris.

Friday, September 16, 2011


With two books due immediately, a talk on the horizon and an interview with PBS's Bob Edwards set up for 05 October, my mind is whirling. Next year, I thought today as I walked to the office, I will take a little less work, and spend more time on the balloon project and, finally, writing the Iceland book. For the moment, write, write, write, and when I'm done for the day I can relax with Boccherini's "La Musica Notturna Delle Strade Di Madrid", which I really enjoy (you might recognize it from the movie, 'Master and Commander').

Pressure suit project: tonight, install helmet hold-down cable, adjust left thigh constriction problem, design seat restraints for ground tests. Coolant pump is in the mail, it will arrive just in time! I'm tempted to sew in the coolant tubes to the undergarment, but I need to see how the pump works with the existing tubing before doing that.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Master Power and Voltmeter

Installed the master power switch (still waiting for the power indicator light to arrive in the mail, but it's easy to install) and the DC voltmeter (to the right of the master switch I'm activating). Two hours just for these little items, but slowly, piece by piece, the system grows toward utility! Eventually the whole control board will have to be taken apart and built into something more workable as a cockpit, but for the moment, getting it to work is the goal, which both identifies exactly every switch and gauge needed, the weight of the whole system, and gets me intimately familiar with the system. There's no substitute for building it myself, because in the event of a malfunction that intimate knowledge will give be the best possible chance of knowing what's gone wrong, and how to bypass or solve it.

Spore Dispersal

Draft of a figure for the space book: different kinds of spore dispersal, by short and tall fungi. The laminar air flow parallel to the ground is avoided by both fungi's spore-dispersing methods, which puts spores into the more turbulent air flow, resulting in longer-distance dispersal.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Draft drawing of a comet, for the space book. Click to enlarge; on the upper right is a Boeing 747 to give an idea of the scale. This is a medium-small sized comet core (the tail is not visible). The image needs some work, but it's coming along.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Testbed Work

In the upper image, the testbed from the front; below, from the back, showing the installed liquid coolant tank (clear plastic cylinder with orange bands) and the 12v battery (small black block with yellow strap--this is just a motorcycle battery, but I'll switch to a larger battery(ies) later). Next up; install the coolant pump, the panel lights and other electrics. Then, back to the suit itself.

As i began the project, I planned to have as few indicators (gauges etc) as possible, but with a breathing gas and suit pressurization system, two altimeters (one low-altitude, one high-altitude), temperature and various pressure gauges (not to mention the VHF aviation radio, also to be installed) I'm ending up building a large control panel, but there's just no way around it. You quickly run into a lot of interesting issues in building such a system, including minute details regarding the placement of each display and control.

Right now, all of this is built into a wooden testbed equipped with wheels so it's easy to move around while making tests; later, it will all be built into a cockpit assembly mounted on the balloon car itself. But, for the moment, I'm sorting out just exactly what I do and do not need, and how much all of that is going to weigh...then, when that is known, the task is to build a balloon that will lift the whole package--with me installed as the pilot!--to 50,000 feet. Since I'm finishing up two books right now, I only have about 8 hours per weekend to work on the going is slow.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Electrical System

Starting to build the electrical system, which will run on one or several 12v batteries. A few years ago I designed and installed the 12v system on my friend John Haslett's 30-foot sailboat, and the book I used--Casey's Sailboat Electrics Simplified was so good that I still remember it, and picked up a copy to guide me along. On the distribution panel (click image to enlarge) you see, from the top, switches for the VHF radio, a low-amperage light (red, to prevent loss of night vision) to illuminate the instrument panel, breathing gas (oxygen) heater, propane fuel heater (to clear frozen fuel could be -70F where I'm going!), suit heater (should not be needed at all, as the pressurizing gas in the suit is an excellent insulator, and military high altitude balloon pilots, it turns out, more often overheated than became cold!) and suit coolant pump, which will circulate cooling fluid through hoses sewn into my pressure suit liner. Getting the power to do all of that from 12v batteries is going to be a challenge, and I am considering a solar panel array to keep the batteries charged. I'm also researching chemical methods to keep the propane burner fuel lines from freezing, as I'm skeptical that the 12v system will actually have enough power to keep them cleared. Casey's book is a wonder, and I recommend it for anyone working with a system like this. The suit I'm leaving alone for a bit, just thinking through some fixes to a couple of issues. The electrical system is a nice diversion. It is thoroughly fulfilling to design and build something that works!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Heavenly Breezes

In a 1593 letter to Galileo, German astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote,

"Provide ships or sails adapted to the heavenly breezes, and there will be some who will not fear even that void."

What is a void? What is a terror? There are some, of course; while others, we manufacture. One real terror, a place where humanity is hard-pressed to survive, is Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America, if you are in a sailboat. Sailing legends Robin Knox-Johnson and Bernard Moitissier describe it here; and above, 16-year old Jessica Watson is seen in her sailboat, just rounding the Cape, in a video frame from her recent solo sailing circumnavigation of the Earth. Yes -- there will be some who will not fear even that void!