Monday, May 28, 2012

Test Video

One of three full-pressure tests done this past weekend.

Direct LINK.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Full Pressure Test!

A major failure of a certain valve prevented the 60-minute test I'd planned for today. However, that is good, alerting me to the pressure issue with that valve. We -- me and my buddies Todd Olson and Chuck Sullivan -- got the suit up to a survivable pressure, and, as mentioned, identified some major problems. The good news is that these problems are fixable. And, I did get 18 minutes of pressure testing. Video being processed.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ye Olden Times

Old video of my preparations for the third Iceland expedition! Some great memories, and some great shots of the sailing expedition from 1998:

Iceland Video.

This is not what appeared, finally, on National Geographic TV, but has some other and interesting (in my opinion :)) footage. Shameless self-promotion; but hey, that's part of the job :)

Sixty minute full pressure test of the suit tomorrow!

Saturday, May 19, 2012


For a number of reasons, I've recently re-entered the world of statistics. The graphic above reminds me of the essential purposes of statistical analysis!

ONM Mask In

Installed oral-nasal mask (ONM), fitting it to the breathing gas in/out ports on the suit chest. The hoses are a bit long, but they tuck nicely back into the helmet when it's attached. I'm arranging a 60-minute pressure test, with me inside, for next weekend. The system has come a long way in three years! Replacing the plastic components on the suit will be easy, and for the moment they have made it cheap to build a proof-of-concept full pressure suit. Working on a long list of tiny checklist items today, e.g. attaching a few zip ties, sealing the four tiny holes in the ONM, cleaning all seals, installing a blinking LED low-pressure alarm light (it will just tell me when the pressure-regulating valve kicks in, actually, so it will never actually indicate a less-than survivable pressure, only that the regulator has kicked in for a moment...or it might be on continuously, if there is a slow leak...if there is, it should be very slow as I have documented in many tests in the last few months).

Friday, May 18, 2012


I am always entranced by watching a professional doing their work in complete focus and concentration!

In a lot of reading I've found that while most of the approach to an airport is automatized, the final minutes and moments usually end up in human hands. So you are paying for the expertise of a living human sensory system, one that has learned to do certain things, microsecond by microsecond, at certain times in the unfolding of an airliner approach to a landing strip. Pilot does not just do things by signal -- otherwise it could be done from remote control -- but there in the seat, sensing the aircraft's reaction to their control touches. The pilots that you pay to get you from A to B are living beings directing machines. If that is not interesting to you, I give up! It opens a thousand questions about humanity and its relationship to machinery -- which is, of course, just an invention of humanity.

Test Ready (?)

Took apart the helmet liner, stripping out the Russian communication cables, mike and headphones, and installed my own temporary replacements (will be replaced with comms stuff for the VHF radio later -- this is just to talk through a walkie-talkie during early tests). Reversed breathing gas hoses, zip-tied to now-sealed mask, and reworked basic valving on helmet gas supply. There are only the tiniest details needed before next weekend's full-pressure test! Am I ready? I think so.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Emigrating From Earth

Though I don't believe anything in publishing until I'm actually holding the printed material in my own hands -- pretty exciting! Final proofing underway!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Overpressure Valve

Another small life-saving component. This pressure relief valve will be screwed into the suit, such that if suit pressure exceeds 4psi, it opens, bleeding out gas. It would then close again when the pressure was down to 4psi, which exceeds by .5psi what I need to survive. This pressure relief valve, then, would prevent the suit from exploding should the pressurization gas supply valve fail in the 'OPEN' (pressurizing) position, which would continue to pump gas into the suit until the suit bursts. Can't have that! I also have a manual, backup pressure relief valve that I could open should this unit fail (though I need to devise an 'overpressure alarm').

On the first spacewalk, cosmonaut Alexei Leonov was unable to get back into his spacecraft -- why? Because his pressure suit was inflated a bit high, preventing him from squeezing back through the hatch! His overpressure valve (as seen above) had failed, and he had to use his manual backup to bleed out enough gas that the suit went limp enough to crawl back inside! This was a MASSIVE gamble with decompression sickness, but was all he could do -- and it worked. Now --w what if my suit is overpressurized, my own relief valve fails (moisture in the suit pressurization gas could freeze up the valve!), and I'm in an uncontrolled descent (say, the balloon has burnt up, or exploded), and I can't--because of the excessive size of my suit due to over-inflation--can't get out of my seat? Just a few mm can do it, as the pressure suit is quite rigid when pressurized! Well, then I will turn to my backup, manual 'pressure dump' valve, deflate the suit enough to get out of the seat, and bail out. I'd rather take my chances with that decompression ('the bends') scenario than hit the ground in an uncontrolled descent! And where do I put that manual, backup 'dump valve'? Somewhere unambiguous, in easy reach with the suit over-pressurized. And it needs a large, easily-grasped handle as well, so there is no fooling around, I reach for it, turn it, dump pressure, and bail out. But that big handle mustn't interfere with parachute harness straps etc. All stuff that keeps me awake nights :)

Unit screws into a fitting in the suit. But there is a tiny--pinprick-sized--orifice at the bottom of the relief valve, and that's what I'm counting on to remain completely unobstructed for this overpressure valve to work. But what if that pinprick is somehow obstructed, 'failing' this component? I can install a small wire mesh below, to prevent such a thing...a further new complication!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The most bedeviling assembly of the build so far has been the mask that I must wear inside the helmet. I think this is finally it: wore it for half an hour today with the visor down; no wriggling or other movements of my head dislodged any of the hoses, which lead from the inhale and exhale valves to the inhale and exhale ports located on my chest. Attaching the microphone should be straightforward. Next weekend, a pressurized test! Very few components left to build.

Also, today, picked up a spare diving suit, identical to the one that composes the pressure bladder of this suit. I will build that second suit into either a duplicate (it will take I think only a week, now that I know exactly how to do it) _or_ might make a radical new approach, patterning the new suit after the Russian Sokol suit, which closes with no airtight zipper, but an ingeniously simple system that would make the suit easier to put on and off, and, critically, making it possible for me to do so alone, allowing me to do my own tests here at home without an assistant.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Titan Cord

Finally completely rebuilt the helmet hold-down cables and their associated hardware. I'm using non-stretching Titan Cord, 5mm diameter, with a 3,000lb load rating: that ought to do it! This is superior to the steel cable I was using for several reasons. In the photos, the suit inflated fully, and partially, and the large ring sewn in as a handle for cinching down the cord.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Further Seaming

Six hours of this and my hands are like crab claws! Big progress today, taking care of a number of details I've been meaning to get to for months.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


A 'Eureka' moment! I have been trying to figure out how to reduce battery use on the balloon. The greatest suck on the 12v is the VHF radio. So, delete it. I've found in diving, for example, and on the ice cap expeditions, that detailed and continuous back-and-forth communications are not necessary. So, I will sort out a series of 24 codes that I can send to the ground, just by pushing a button, say at 1-min intervals. 1=All OK, ascending, 2=All OK, holding altitude, 3=All OK, descending, right on through to 24 possible signals. This enormously reduces battery power consumption; just a blip every 60 seconds, rather than continuous comms. I can also carry a very light solar panel to 'trickle charge' the 12v in the event that I do need back-and-forth comms. I thought I'd nix all of this by just taking up a cell phone, making a very long call (just leave it on for the whole flight), but the FAA prohibits pilots of any kind using a cell.


1 = all ok, ascending
2 = all ok, passing 20k ft
3 = all ok, passing 30k ft
4 = all ok, passing 40k ft
5 = all ok, at 50k ft
6 = all ok, desceding
7 = all ok, descending through 40k ft
8 = all ok, descending through 30k ft
7 = all ok, descending through 20k ft
8 = all ok, descending through 10k ft
9 = emergency, working to solve
10 = emergency, critical
11 = bailing out

Others to be decided. No need to limit it to 24. Main point is to decide what messages are of use in informing ground crew, and a bit of logic-work to prevent miscommunications. A logic tree is needed. Easy (and fun) to build.

Recently read that airline pilots routinely send txt msgs to air traffic control (by radio, not cells), not to save on battery pwr, but just to speed things up and to, specifically _avoid_ the complexities that come up with direct, constant 2-way communications. Interesting. Mayb Il lrn 2 txt.

3.85 PSI

Holding well. I only need the suit to hold 3.5psi steady (though I will 'overbuild' it to hold far more than this)and the solenoid continues to do its job perfectly. I'm now working on a pressure regulator--to replace the 12v DC-powered solenoid--that requires no power, that will reduce the load on the 12v DC battery. I don't like batteries (at -70F they are likely to fail), and will carry one only for non-life-support systems, e.g. the radio (all instruments, e.g. altimeter and variometer, are mechanical only and require no power). I don't have to have a radio to survive, it's a luxury, really. To further reduce battery load, I'm thinking of getting away from the two-way VHF radio entirely, so that all I transmit is a series of codes, just by periodically pressing a button, e.g. 1 = all OK, proceeding 2 = all OK, descending, 3 = all OK, holding altitude, and so on (I can carry a solar panel to keep the battery 'trickle charged' up, but I still prefer to use less electrical power than more at every instance). Rather than continuous voice communication, which would draw a lot of battery power, this could suffice. I could carry a radio also, in the event I need to switch to two-way voice communications, and I know I need to carry an aviation-band radio in the emergency event of needing to talk with aircraft or air traffic control, but that would be on a separate battery used only for very short periods.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Pressure tests and breathing system tests are exciting; but 90% of the building is more mundane fare, like making my own grommet straps; these will be built into the shoulder joints of the pressure restraint garment, and laced with parachute cord, to join the arm to the shoulder. Hour by hour, the system grows toward reliable function!

And the system is very close. A sensitive overpressure valve (prevents burst of suit if the pressurization system fails in the 'open' configuration) is in the mail to me, and a talk with a pneumatics engineer confirmed one design I dreamed up to automatically maintain appropriate pressure in the suit in the event of a leak; the components for that I'll pick up from the pneumatics workshop next week. I've worked up a 'Drop Dead Deadline List' of timelines by which I mean to reach certain goals. For a long time I've avoided such a timeline, but for a few reasons, the list and timeline are now appropriate.