Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Wrapping up some textbook figures...'Out of Africa III' and a chronology from prehistoric Japan. I send this thing off at the end of this week!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Glove at 3+psi

Quick update today: the left glove at just a hair over 3psi. I found and solved the one remaining mystery leak; just screwed a helmet connection cable a bit tighter. Still a leak at the helmet exhaust valve, which I need to remove and replace with my own. You can see how much the glove 'balloons' at this pressure -- which is basically the pressure I need to survive at 50k feet -- but I can reduce this a bit with some creative seaming to the glove cover. Progress! Today I also sewed socks onto the liner suit, a small item but one I've been meaning to do for a long time.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Glove Improvements

Did some grading starting at 6am and then did some work on the gloves; in the first photo, on the left, the first pressure bladder glove, to its right the second pressure bladder (a backup that fits over the first) and to the right of that, the cuff protector (laid out flat). Next photo, the right glove fitted to a cylinder the same size as the cylinder at the end of the suit sleeve, with the bound hose clamps in place and marked for where screwing to tighten them down should cease (written 'Close Stop' on the metal band). At the base of the assembly is the cuff protector, wrapped around the cuff but not yet in place. Next photo, screwing on the hose clamps, and the next, the cuff protector in place ( to prevent the hose clamps from hanging up on anything) and the glove showing its compression strap. This is somewhat effective, but I mean to add another to the palm to give the glove a bit more shape. Just a few items left on the list now, but two books due on Monday, so I have to get back to them!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Altitude, Pressure, Gas Mix

A very useful diagram from S. J. Gerathewohl's 'Principles of Bioastronautics'.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Reverse Development in Cnidaria


"Besides their high regenerative and asexual-reproduction potential, a number of cnidarians can undergo ontogeny reversal, or reverse development: one or more stages in the life cycle can reactivate genetic programs specific to earlier stages, leading to back-transformation and morph rejuvenation. The switch is achieved by a variable combination of cellular processes, such as transdifferentiation, programmed cell death, and proliferation of interstitial cells."

From S. Piraino, D. De Vito, J. Schmich, J. Bouillon, and F. Boero. 2004. Reverse development in Cnidaria. Canadian Journal of Zoology 82:1748–1754. doi: 10.1139/Z04-174.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sail Seaming!

Back in 1998 I was exploding with energy, shoving my sailmaking needle through not only canvas, but 1/2 inch rope, to build the sails for our magnificent vessel! Seventy days later, I stood at the fore part of the ship, on night watch, everyone else asleep, guiding the vessel up the Pacific coast of Colombia, almost incapacitated by the incredible situation. Those experiences are a deep reservoir, a well, from which I continue to draw, daily.

So, today, am I still exploding with the same energy? Yes! When I wake in the morning, I can hardly wait to get to the office, or the library, to fill in some piece of the puzzle. I'm alone, but electrified--most days--by the the idea of flying my ship to 50,000 feet, and seeing things that few have ever seen, and that nobody has ever written a word about.

Keeping that energy and exuberance going can be hard when there is no-one around who really cares about any of it, but that is, I suppose, the price of an interest in things that are of no use to most people.

Center Fitting Installed

Built in the center through-fitting, for communication and electrical cables, and replaced plastic helmet hold-down fittings with metal; very close, now, to being ready to give it a full-pressure test, with me inside. I've been saying that for months, but that's how it goes! Also a close-up photo of seaming to tighten up a restraint-garment arm section...and again, I'm so lucky to have learned the principles of high-strength hand-seaming while designing and sewing the sails for our 1998 sailing vessel. I'd be almost crippled without that, or forced into using sewing machines. While sewing machines would be more precise, my accuracy here is sufficient -- and the point with this project is to build the suit with my own skills rather than relying on the expertise of the system that has to date built such suits. There are a few items I do have to have made by experts, but I'm confident I could learn those skills, and I will as I observe their construction.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Just some interesting pictures: Yuri Gagarin with his training aircraft, title page of his book (though 'his' has to be taken with a good dose of salt as it was edited by two Pravda reporters and one Air Force general) and one of Yuri on the telephone after his April, 1961 flight, wearing an interesting garment that I am assuming is his pressure garment, but is somewhat mysterious for a number of reasons. The book is very interesting, and heavily propagandistic--just as were the early books about the American astronauts--and since Gagarin died in 1968, it's unfortunately very hard to get his real impressions of being the first human being to enter the off-Earth realm we call 'space'. These are scans from the book 'Road to the Stars' by Yuri Gagarin, no printing date, published in Moscow, which I've obtained from Inter-Library Loan.

I have to mention the upcoming Yuri's Night celebration of 50 years since a human being first entered space; last summer I was thrilled to meet Dr. Ryan Kobrick (currently of MIT's Man-Vehicle Laboratory), founder and director of the Yuri's Night International Space Party, when he and some other MIT and NASA folk came to my little home workshop to see the pressure suit I'm building. Ryan told me about the party, and I will be going to the one in Seattle, WA. There will be parties worldwide to celebrate the idea of humans living beyond the temporary and small scale of Earth, and you can find the closest party here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Stars

"People love to see the stars. That's where we came from. It's where we're going."

I desperately want to steal that for my own writing, but I can't. It was said by astronaut Story Musgrave -- who was instrumental in repairing the Hubble Space Telescope some years ago -- in a documentary on the space shuttle.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Turned a corner with a thought tonight: take it apart and rebuild. With the various pressure tests, I know the weaknesses, where the leaks are, and how to fix them. It's time to get the suit out of the seat, lay it out on the work table again, and make the final adjustments to all the sewing, fittings and plenty of other details. I think about eight hours of work will do it, and there's not a single thing to buy, I have every tool and material I need. First thing will be to do a good cleanup of the work area, sort out and clean all the tools, then clear my work area and prepare it for a final rebuild. One or maybe two weekends should get the suit properly sealed and ready for the pressure test with me in the suit, which I'm really looking forward to.

Actually, first is to formalize my task list, and then assemble exactly the items I need to complete each task. Then clean my tools, clear my head this coming weekend, and get a little more serious about locking in these final pre-test adjustments.

A quick list:


* seal / remove helmet exhaust valve

* arrange intake hose warm-air defog unit

* spare UV/IR cover cutouts

* extend brow of liner cap

* reseal helmet / ring interface

* paint helmet with antiflame coat


* add inner pressure shell

* add velcro connections to helmet liner cap

* ensure proper hose in / out lengths


* replace buckles with metal

* remove / secure sharp swage ends


* second hose clamp each

* hose clamp hold-downs

* antistretch gauntlets

CHEST FITTINGS (final tighten of all fittings)

* left = breathing gas out / extend hose

* center = electrical + comms / shorten through-fitting

and epoxy in lines

* right = breathing gas in / attach quick fitting and

attach hose hanger clip

ABDOMEN FITTING (final tighten of fitting)

* left = cooling hoses in + out / attach hose hanger clip


* left = suit pressurization gas in / replace fitting or

test for slow leak at SCUBA shop

* right = suit pressurization gas out / attach larger

control knob


* reinforce


* add final grommets to each / add velcro position holders

to each


* final airtight coat


* center chest through-hole

* reinforce all through-holes with third strength layer

* cinch underarm mesh

* replace helmet hold-down fittings with metal

* replace chest fittings wtih metal


* build and attach with arrangements for parachute harness

* add arrangement for bail-out aviator's breathing gas


* add arrangement for inflating life vest, sea dye and

small survival / map kit


* sew vest tubes for threading in coolant hoses

* sew socks on to leg cuffs

* sew thumb loops onto arm cuffs

Monday, January 16, 2012

Goodbye to Plastic Fittings

No photo today, just a note: all the plastic fittings -- buckles etc. -- have to go, to be replaced by metal. With the suit up at 3psi, several are visibly strained. I knew a few would have to go, but it's astounding how much stress is put on the fittings at that pressure. The good news; made big progress in understanding the sealing of the helmet's exhaust valve, though that's still just a temporary fix until I can entirely remove it. I'll feel a lot better when it's off and I can install whatever I want there rather than the 'black box' of the current valve. Even though I have a manual for the helmet, which shows a diagram of the valve, there are things I don't understand about it, and I won't fly with anything I can't disassemble and reassemble, thereby knowing exactly how it works. Final, final editing on two books this coming week, then I can get back to the system. Two months 'behind schedule' RE the next pressure test with me in the suit, but that's OK; there's just no way to move faster, and I think that once the suit is holding pressure properly a lot of other things will fall in place rather quickly.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ocean Magazine

I am thrilled to be the winner of the 2012 Ocean Magazine writing contest. This very short narrative began as some notes scrawled in a notebook, then typed on my blog, then edited a few times before submission. The other day I received two copies of Ocean, and a card mentioning I'd won -- a nice surprise.

The narrative is a little other-worldly in that the chronology is a little mixed, and it's not always entirely clear what's going on...that is by design, as, just like mountain climbing, or sailing on the Pacific on a strange, primitive raft, or dragging my sled through shifting mists or auroral glows in Iceland or Alaska, all of these experiences have seemed strange and other-worldly -- especially in hindsight, when I close my eyes to sleep, sometimes, and images or sounds of these experiences bubble up...Did I really do that? Was I ever really there?

The hours and days thunder by -- every moment infinitely more precious than the brightest or heaviest gold!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

2psi Test

After a nearly sleepless night, rolling around while thinking about various pressure, electrical and gas issues, I brought the system up to 2psi today, with most connections, including coolant hoses, connected and running. Despite sealing off the helmet's exhaust valve, I was still losing pressure there (so my seal was no good). I think I'll remove that hardware; leaving just a hole in the helmet will give me a lot more options than I currently have with the extant valve, which has been a problem from the start. Removing the valve without damaging the helmet will be a challenge. I also have to finally replace the suit gas pressurization fitting as it leaks very, very slowly. I've recently read that all pressure vessels have leaks; pressure suits, aircraft and even spacecraft have leak rates and the issue is simply to get that rate down low enough that it's sustainable. Right now my leak rate, through the unsealable helmet vent and suit pressurization fitting, isn't survivable...so in short I've slipped backwards a bit, though at least I know exactly what I need to do next. The good news is that my use of epoxy to seal through-fitting plugs for electrics and the coolant hoses actually worked, which feels good.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Just a few PSI in the suit puts significant stresses on the various components. This is fascinating stuff! Above you can see the helmet hold-down cables: I removed the originals that came with the helmet, for a number of reasons, and replaced them with my own 1/16" steel cable, which I swaged on each end. The cable attaches in front to a strap sewn into the crotch of the suit, and then rises up through the fittings on the L and R sides of the helment, and then descend the back of the suit to two fittings on the mid-back. This prevents the helmet from rising up over the head when pressurizing the suit. The photos show the back of suit with its cables, and closeups of the chinzy split rings I used for the front connection, coming apart under the pressure of just 2psi, and a closeup of the hold-down cable having shifted out if its hold-down track pulley fitting! This is probably because I reversed this fitting, for various reasons, but will now return to their normal position. Every time I pressurize the suit and solve problems like this, I am learning life-saving design lessons! Another photo, added just a moment ago, shows the blown-out split rings from the helmet hold-down when I brought pressure up to normal, with the hold-downs somewhat cinched down. Completely destroyed. A reminder to always wear eye protection when dealing with pressurized gas. The failure was simply a dramatic 'pop', one of more than a few I've heard on this project, and something I don't want to hear again.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Seat Pressure Test

Rather late tonight, as I was cleaning up the tools, I decided to put the suit in the seat and pressurize. All well! Went up to 3+PSI. One slow leak, where I expect it. The other main slow leak problem has been solved. The cinches to pressure restraint garment elbows and knees, to give the suit a bit of shape, work! The arms are held down by bungee cords at the moment, but that's just for convenience for the moment. The great thing is that all of my fittings--suit gases in / out, cooling in/out are airtight. The main problem now will be to get the upper part of the suit's restraint garment a bit closer tailored to my shape, and then start building the liquid oxygen breathing gas system, which is going to be very simple and robust.

Friday, January 6, 2012


It doesn't get much better than this!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Electrical Control Box Placement

These days I think, every day, 'What can I do today to advance the project, even if just a little?' Tonight I took an hour to build a wooden/cardboard replica of the main electrical control panel, and mounted it on the right armrest; here you see the pilot's eye view of the box, which will have six switches (I need to build into the box a switch protector so they're less likely to be turned on/off accidentally). My pressure suit will be very crude--though effective--so mobility will be low, demanding that I design things so that I don't need to move my arms around too much. This means placing all controls / actuators as close to my hands as possible. This arrangement would put the main electrics control box very close, allowing me to turn on and off the main electrical components with a slight hand gesture.

Right now it looks like electrical actuators will be on the right hand side, and gas management will be on the left. Burner / balloon deflation controls are another issue, to be dealt with after I work out the gas management controls.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Day 2012

So close to done with the textbook that today I took a break from it to build and paint a mockup of the balloon car frame. This will eventually be aircraft aluminum, but for the moment the wooden mockup allows me to start final configuration of all the systems; fuel, burners, life-support module, communications, emergency pack, bailout platform, solar panels, and a few others. Happy New Year!