Saturday, December 31, 2011

Departure / Detachment

Just a beautiful piece of music from Gattaca. It takes significant effort to detach from the usual cares of the world and spend time engaged in other domains of thought. Many people can't or won't, and they are the ones, the majority, who will always argue that emigrating to space will be too expensive, dangerous or simply pointless. It takes a strong effort to remember that you have to ignore those voices, and keep moving. Those people will say the same thing even as the first colonies past Pluto are flourishing, and even as a civilization-killing comet moves inexorably towards the Earth. Those voices, really, are already extinct.

Below the music link...a rough screen grab of the book title page...Very, very close to being done, now!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Another small piece of the puzzle; hold-down straps to keep me in place when seated and the suit is pressurized. A patch on the suit is gluing for a week under pressure at the moment...After that, I think it's ready for the test.

Moving Beyond Earth

I agree with Steven Hawking: "Humanity's future relies on moving beyond Earth. As long as we are confined to one planet, the existence of our species will always be in question."

Monday, December 26, 2011


A few details remaining; I've sealed up a slow leak that has bedeviled me for ages, and I think tomorrow a 'dry' inflation to be sure that leak is finished with. The solution to it is simple, and it's no big concern because I know exactly what and where it is.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Above, the instrument panel, bristling, now, growing items like barnacles. I've taped life-size mockups of the VHF radio panel (narrow & horizontal) and aviation band transceiver (narrow and vertical radio with antenna) to the setup to start thinking about how much room I need for everything. This entire mockup will be taken apart and rebuilt into a functional cockpit layout later, but for the moment the idea is to make sure it all works together, learn the electrics issues (need to add solar panels for power) and start deciding where to place everything such that it all goes where I can see it all and access the various switches. I've added an LED voltmeter;t he analog voltmeter next to the main power switch will be replaced with a better voltmeter and matching ammeter. While the LED voltmeter is easy to read, at low temps the display will fail, so I don't have much use for it, really, though it draws so little power that I might keep it as an optional backup. I've also added my trusty ship's compass, near the bottom of the 'stack', which guided me across the Vatnajokull ice cap and across the Alaskan tundra and sea ice in two expeditions...I wouldn't think of leaving it behind! Tomorrow, Christmas day--a day for six hours' writing, and then straight on to continue with this system!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Water Landing Checklist

A first shot at a Water Landing checklist. This is a mockup, based on some FAA suggestions for water-landing of a balloon. I'll make many iterations of such checklists over the next year or so, as I prepare for a first flight in, I think, 2013. I'm not sure which checklists will be on my forearms--probably the most likely and important--and which will be mounted in the cockpit in some way that makes them accessible and unambiguous. I looked at a book on cockpit design last year, fascinating material regarding lettering, colors, placement of warnings and so on, and I'll revisit that later. For the moment, a mockup--a real flight checklist I used in paraglider flight training is here, where I'm about 800 feet above ground in Eastern Washington, setting up my landing phases.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Light and Suit Coolant Pump Tests

Knocked out ten pages of text, then turned to an hour or so on the system; installed a proper lighting system--a red (to save night vision) low-energy LED array--and ran the suit coolant pump for a while, connected to the suit, watching for leaks. And there were no leaks!

Monday, December 19, 2011

In Open Space

A great clip from Al Reinert's film, 'For All Mankind.'

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Hollow Men

It doesn't get much better than T.S. Eliot himself, reading 'The Hollow Men', transcribed below.

The Hollow Men


We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.


Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death's dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death's dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer --

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom


This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death's other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.


The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death's twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.


Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o'clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mask Microphone Test

Made a quick test of the oral-nasal mask mike, which will be used to communicate with whomever I can bribe into helping me with the suit test; the microphone, installed inside the mask (in the photo above it's just outside the mask, on an earlier test), routes communications to a regular walkie-talkie that I'll wear inside the pressure suit; when I talk into the mike, my words will be picked up by the suit assistant's walkie-talkie, and of course I'll wear earphones so I can hear them talk through their walkie-talkie. The mike sounds good enough (at least for the ground tests), as you can hear in this mp3 file. Now I need to figure out a way to permanently install the mike in the mask with an airtight fitting. For the actual flights, communications will be routed not to a walkie-talkie, of course, but to a VHF radio for communication with the ground, and/or an aviation band radio for communication with other aircraft.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


One more deadline this year -- my Introduction to Archaeology textbook, due in 2.5 weeks, which means I will be shuttling between the library, coffee shop, and home computer for precisely the next 2.5 weeks. Two chapters to add to the already-430-page monster, then all of the art to finalize, and then it's New Year's and I will take a good long breath before starting writing on the Arctic book...Right now, draw up a writing target for each of the next 17 days, and see when I can squeeze in getting the liquid oxygen and other components for the pressure suit project test...If I'm careful with my time, I might pull off a test of the suit before the New Year...three months after I thought I'd be doing it, but that's life. There are only so many hours in a day!

Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Works in Progress

Sketches of reconsideration of the electrical control box placement, and a couple of ideas for the overall balloon car design. All grading done, I now have several free weeks to make progress on the system!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Balloon Car Dimensions

The suit fitted to its seat; the black discs represent the diameter of standard 20-gal fuel tanks (6), the blue tape on the floor represents the basic balloon car (gondola) frame; the black line on the upright PVC pipes represents the height of the fuel tanks. I'm waiting for one element of the pressure suit to arrive in the mail, so today I took some time to sketch out some of the essential dimensions of the balloon car. This configuration will require total reorganization of the electrical panel and the breathing gas supply tanks & hoses, but that's fine, what I've built so far has always just been a testbed to be sure everything is working. Later tonight, back to grading, but for the moment, I'm taking a break to work out some of these basic dimensions.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Helmet Adjustment

A small task I've been meaning to take care of for months, today; rotating the helmet mount ring by a few degrees. That meant removing the ring, something I haven't done for a long time, and this broke a significant psychological barrier. With the helmet holding pressure, I was loathe to even touch the assembly, lest I reassemble it in some way that didn't hold pressure again. But the helmet seal is so simple, it _should_ be easy to disconnect and connect, and it is. Pressure test next weekend, I hope; I might even have liquid oxygen for breathing by that time, something I'm working on this coming week.

Friday, December 9, 2011

For the Christmas Season - Marley's Speech

From 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens; some of the best writing I've ever read:

It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world...and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!...I wear the chain I forged in life...I ...made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you? Or would you know the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge...

Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Seat Mockup

In the images above, the seat mockup, using various lumber clamped with carriage bolts to a dining chair. The suit, minus helmet and gloves, is loosely set in the seat, and very close to pressure testing in a week or two. The balloon carriage (gondola) I'll build will be different from most in one main respect; I will be seated for takeoff, flight and landing, rather than standing (though on landing I do need a standing option). Since the seat will be be the foundation of the carriage, I'm starting with this mockup to get my basic dimensions, so I can start drawing up plans that will 'grow out' from the seat. The testbed in in the background, and after the pressure tests it will be disassembled and rebuilt into a functional cockpit for the carriage. The plan is for balloon flight training in 2012!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Seat Integration

In the photo above, I've built armrests and leg restraints around a dining chair that I'll use for the full-pressure, seated test of my integration with the flight instrument panel testbed. The whole instrument panel will be rebuilt after this test--an exciting project that will improve it significantly--but for the moment this is the 'proof of concept' stage, integrating me in a seated position with all of the hoses I need to support life (breathing gas in/out, suit pressurization gas in [pressure out is valve on the suit itself], suit coolant in/out, communication cables in/out) in position; not too long, not too short etc. Most of the wood used to build the armrests etc. is just wood I've found on the streets, here and there, and the carriage bolts used to connect it all, without any drilling or damage to the chair itself, cost just a few dollars at the hardware store.

Waiting for just a few last components before being ready for the full pressure test coming up, hopefully next weekend. I've pushed the date back a few times, but that's as it should be, as I'm not answerable to any equipment sponsors. I'll only look for a few sponsors once the life-support system is entirely built...and maybe not even, then, really, because from previous experience I know that expedition sponsorship = pressure, and I can't be pressured with this project, where my life is in the balance and I need to just progress on my own building schedule.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Uganda Space Plane

Currently being assembled...the plan is to fly this vehicle to an altitude of 80,000 feet; the government has promised the project about 56,000$US for the project, which is scheduled to be ready some time in 2012: link here. I wish them good luck!