Earth-inspired innovation for Space: Cameron Smith about Dion's sled and other polar modifications

Posted: Jan 02, 2015 06:21 pm EST

(Tina Sjogren) Kicking off his kite-skiing at Novolazarevskaya on November 10, Frederic Dion arrived at the South Pole of Inaccessibility (S82º 06.702' E55º 02.087’) on December 14 and at the Geographic South Pole (90ºS) on December 24. He had covered 2490 km in 45 days and is now heading North to Hercules Inlet. 


"I am an inventor,” the French-Canadian told ExplorersWeb's Correne Coetzer over breakfast in Cape Town shortly before his departure to Antarctica. His sled was modified from a kayak and doubled up as a tent, and he had tweaked nearly all his clothes and gear, to make them lighter, more efficient and faster.


Oregon based Cameron Smith  built a 'live-in sledge' used at Iceland's Vatnajokull ice cap in 2001-2004, and later revisited the subject in relation to Brazilian Julio Fiadi's habitable sledge. Currently, Cameron is looking at a mobile hab for ExWeb's expedition to Mars , an idea building on such experiments and more. Explorersweb checked in with the climber/explorer/anthropology professor turned Space-suit designer for comments on the latest Antarctica sledge-invention. 


ExplorersWeb: Frederic Dion (Solo, kite-ski Novo - South Pole of Inaccessibility) made a "homemade" sled from a kayak that doubles up as a tent. You built something similar for your trip on Island. How does Fred’s sled compare to yours?


Cameron: From the photos I can see it's hard to tell the design, but in any case the idea to make any expedition equipment have several functions is a good principle; for example, if you carry four ice screws for the tent corners, you could instead take three and use an ice axe in place of the fourth ice screw, saving the weight of one ice screw. Regarding making the sled function as a shelter, it's a good idea if it can give you enough room, and with polar gear on you need quite a bit of room.


ExplorersWeb: Any general comments on his construction? 


Cameron:  I am still looking for good images.


ExplorersWeb: What would you have done differently (better) today on your sledhab?


Cameron:  I would only put on slightly wider skis (as the narrow skis sank in softer snow) and make some kind of provision to allow me to guide the sled-hut downhill. The existing model (still in Reykjavik with my buddy Halldor Kvaran) was hard to direct downhill.


ExplorersWeb: Fred’s sled was built to avoid flipping over and reinforced to withstand kiting over sastrugi. Unfortunately it got damaged so he had to travel with the two ends joined together. Any advice what else could be done?


Cameron:  To avoid flipping I immediately think of an outrigger of some kind. For sastrugi I am not sure, as I simply walked over them, while he is moving fast over them with the kite.


ExplorersWeb: You are building a spacesuit that we may use on Mars. The Antarctica ice cap resembles Mars crust in some ways - thinking out of the box, what could we learn “here” for “there” when it comes to moving around?


Cameron:  A tremendous amount can be learned. First, what are the 'wear points' where most friction occurs and where we must reinforce the Mars suit both for comfort and to prevent leaks. Second, what are the most common motions of the day in the Mars suit, e.g. walking, bending and so on; we have to be sure these are accomodated in a Mars surface exploration suit. Third, I am thinking about comfort in general; if we presume the basic functions of holding gas pressure, maintaining temperature and C02 levels, and so on, are met, then we have to make sure the suit can be worn day after day, and that means it must be bearable in terms of comfort.


ExplorersWeb: Newall Hunter (Messner to GSP) describes how he uses the GPS to set the compass so that it points in the direction he wants to go. He skis a short distance with the GPS and then sets the compass to his ski marks in the snow. He wears the compass on a chest harness so that he can see it all of the time without having to use his hands. Again - how would we navigate on Mars surface in a bulky spacesuit learning from this? 


Cameron:  I think something else will be needed as Mars does not have a strong enough magnetic field to use a compass. You might be right back to the beginning, dead reckoning, but even without a compass, you would be dead reckoning with a wheel to measure distance daily, and try to stay on long straight lines, and orient your map each day by a simple star or planet shot with a sextant-like instrument at night. This is a really cool project to consider!


ExplorersWeb: By necessity for survival in the extremes, there are a lot of innovators and tinkerers among explorers. As a maker yourself, what would be your advice to them in terms of trying to produce their ideas for a bigger market?


Cameron:  I'm afraid I have not tried to market or spread my ideas commercially, so I don't know about that; it's a whole other project. Regarding invention in general, the keys are (1) know the history / read all the background to your field, (2) don't think 'it' can only be done one way, find alternate solutions and (3) look at nature, the thing you are trying to do has already prrobably been 'invented' by the processes of evolution in the 3+ billion years of Earth life.


ExplorersWeb: Finally: how was TEDx and what’s the latest/next step on your spacesuit?


Cameron:  Thanks for asking! TEDx Brussels was great; it was great to be asked to talk about the project that has consumed so much of my life for the past few years, and to be able to communicate the pressure suit project to an international audience as part of many public lectures I have done this year on the importance of space exploration. The next step is to build the Mark III garment, this will be used for flights this year (2015) and will be 1/3 the weight and bulk of the Mark I and II garments. I can't wait to get started, and we begin in about two weeks!



Mission to Mars: Stage 2 Report

ExWeb interview with Frédéric Dion, invention and modification for the South Pole of Inaccessibility


Prototype of Fred's innovation: his kayak-turned-sled, which also doubles-up as a tent.
courtesy Frederick Dion, SOURCE
Cameron exploring Iceland in winter 2004 with his pulkahab. "The device mounted on my chest is a ship's compass, which I use to stay on course without having to pull out a compass and wait for it to settle," he told us back then.
courtesy Halldor Kvaran, Cameron M. Smith, SOURCE
"This is looking into the interior," Cameron described his sled, "where I'm loading storage compartments under the 'floor'."
courtesy Cameron McPherson Smith, Iceland expeditions photo gallery., SOURCE
Julio Fiadi's early prototype sled. Click to expand.
Approaching SP from Messner point this season, Newall Hunter described his navigation: "So the technique is to use the GPS to set the compass so that it points in the direction I want to go. I ski a short distance with the GPS and the set the compass to my ski marks in the snow. I wear the compass on a chest harness so that I can see it all of the time without having to use my hands."
courtesy Newall Hunter over Contact, SOURCE
Cameron, his team and ExWeb founders following a spacesuit fitting.
courtesy Cameron Smith, SOURCE

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