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DIY Mars Debrief - Cameron Smith: The Meaning of a Pressure Test

Posted: Oct 23, 2013 09:11 am EDT

(Tina Sjogren) Out of nothing a race for Mars is on. Several private projects have been announced only in the last year and DIY makers are solving pieces of the puzzle, no agencies needed.


Even NASA agrees that the space suit is among the hardest nuts to crack. Besides protection against alien hazards, pressurized suits must provide earth-like life conditions while allowing good mobility.


People around the world are working on a solution - closest to home is professor/writer/mountaineer/explorer Cameron M. Smith who already wrote a book about the general subject and built a rigid hab for polar travel on Earth. 


Cameron has been working on the space suit for years and this summer at last, time came to have it tested at a rocket shop in Denmark's capital Copenhagen. Here goes Cameron's debrief for ExplorersWeb.


Copenhagen Report:

The Meaning of a Pressure Test

Cameron M. Smith, 02 October 2014


Oxygen hisses into my helmet as John crackles across the radio plug in my left ear.

"OK Cam, how about your temperature and pressure?"

"All well," I say, using a phrase that, after nearly 100 tests in my home-built pressure suit, rolls straight from my mind to my tongue when nothing is perceptibly wrong.

"All well,” I say, then add "All well. Temperature 71, and pressure," I look at the gauge on my wrist and say "Pressure is rock steady at 1.8psi."

John, whose voice I know from 15 years of expeditions, and have heard many times on radios worldwide, says reassuringly in a completely neutral voice:

"OK, that all sounds good."


I feel a contentment; the system that our team has built is working because John is reading the same numbers on his controls as I am reading on my suit.


In the last four years of pressure testing there have been plenty of times that not all has been well: I've nearly suffocated, I’ve had a pressure crash draw the breath out of my lungs…I've spent six months with my hearing reduced by half. I've felt bubbles apparently trickle through the very fluids in my eyes, I’ve taken a lungful of water during an immersion test and we have had too many pressure fittings blast out of place...All of these disorders have been my fault.


But today, at this moment, sealed into the Mercury-style space capsule that will one day ride atop a massive rocket, All is Well.


The Kazbek Position


It's the 40th minute of the Endurance Test, in which I've been seated in the 'Kazbek Position', an unnatural recline that requires a strap to keep my knees together. It's like laying on a bed that's been tilted head-up by 20 degrees, with your knees drawn up as high as they can go, and then tied together, your ankles also.


My suit pressure is relatively high and the suit constrains my movement such that I feel I am living inside a shell of myself, an exoskeleton, slightly flexible, about an inch our from my arms, chest and legs.


Folded in this pressurized garment, inside the capsule, strapped into the seat and sealed off from the outside world is alien. Hearing the cooling system and the gas coming in and going out of the suit is alien, these are sounds that keep me alive and I am hyper-aware of my vital functions and the fact that my life is completely dependent on machinery. It is scary and thrilling at the same time.


Our test is to determine whether this a reasonable posture for Peter Madsen, co-founder of Copenhagen Suborbitals (a Danish crowd-funded, DIY manned space program), to endure for his Mercury-style flight. When I'd awoken this morning, and come down the ladder from my bunk above the construction hangar, I'd been stunned at the gleaming, 50-foot cylinder of aluminum being welded together there on the shop floor, the half-scale model of the rocket.


Even after a week I was thrilled starting every morning with a coffee in the midst of a Rocket Shop.


Next: part 2 (of 3)






#Science #Tech #Polar

Cameron M. Smith
courtesy Photo: Jev Olsen, SOURCE
"There have been plenty of times that not all has been well..."
courtesy Photo: Jev Olsen, SOURCE
Testing the suit in a wind tunnel (used by skydivers)
courtesy Photo: Jev Olsen, SOURCE
"Even after a week I was thrilled starting every morning with a coffee in the midst of a Rocket Shop."
courtesy Photo: Jev Olsen, SOURCE
Wired video
Copenhagen Suborbitals