Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Willamette Week Pressure Suit Coverage

Mp> Photo: Natalie Behring

A new, short item in Portland's alternative newspaper, the Willamette Week. Thanks to reporter Nigel Jacquiss and photographer Natalie Behring; we did this just a few hours before I flew down to San Diego, and I just barely managed to get things ready the night before.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Break Time

A few days' break, visiting folks in California, and then in January move Pacific Spaceflight out of my apartment and across the river to a light industrial workshop; for 2014 the schedule is to manufacture two pressure garments, a training capsule and life-support system, and start using them in the regional rivers and lakes to begin developing a slew of procedures for water operations. See you on the other side of Christmas!

Saturday, December 14, 2013


"Some critics regard the changing theories of science as a sign of weakness in the whole scientific approach to nature. This criticism reflects a personal attitude. No one wishing to find absolutely certain answers to his questions about the world should be seeking them within the open-minded framework of science in the first place. The person in quest of certainty and finality should consider one of the numerous authoritarian dogmas available, some of which have come down to us unchnaged since the time of barbarism."

-- p.38 of Grant, V. 1966. The Origin of Adaptations. New York, Columbia University Press.

Thinking about evolution is a delicate thing. You become involved in multiple scales rather quickly, and these hold together so tenuously, in the human mind, that a slight disturbance scrambles the picture.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pressure Suit Water Test 1

Though we had ice on our ropes and the temperature was nicely below freezing today, we got in the water and started to learn how to work with an inflated suit in the water. I built a crude raft to hold a SCUBA tank (feeding Ben Wilson breathing and pressurization gas) and that had some use, but we might not need it in future tests. Face-down, Ben felt fine. We believe we have a carbon-dioxide problem to sort out, and that is close to top priority now. All in all, though, a good day out, learning to work around and in water. Our partners, Copenhagen Suborbitals, are a maritime operation, launching and landing at sea, and the more time we have in the water, in any capacity, is good. Thanks to Bruce Mataya on the radio with Ben Wilson (in the suit), Washoe Magruder and Kit Macallister for shooting photos and video, and Project Director Nicholas Walleri, guiding us along.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Upcoming Presentations and New Radio Show

Recently accepted an invitation to do a talk for the Rose City Astronomers in 2014, regarding my book (Emigrating Beyond Earth: Human Adaptation and Space Colonization (Springer, 2012) and other writings on human space settlement (my fifth such talk in the past two years); what an honor, as it's one of the largest and most active astronomy clubs in the US. it'll be a big show at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. I am going to have time to craft a great presentation. I'm also doing a presentation on the project here at PSU, in the new year -- more on that later.

And recently a re-edit of the original Destination DIY radio show on the pressure suit project at 99% Invisible, a radio station in San Francisco.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ray Bradbury, Again (as always!)

"Every time you take a step, even when you don't want to ... when it hurts, when it means you rub chins with death, or even if it means dying, that's good. Anything that moves ahead, wins. No chess game was ever won by the player who sat for a lifetime thinking over his next move."

-- Ray Bradbury

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Evolutionary Transitions

"The transition to multicellular organisms with many kinds of differentiated cells occurred on three occasions, suggesting that it may not have been particuularly difficult. This would be explained if the main cellular novelty required was an epigenetic inheritance system, as this existed already in protists. If so, the emergence and radiation of the metazoa had to wait only for suitable environmental condition."

p.231 of Szathmary, E. and J. Maynard-Smith. 1995. The Major Evolutionary Transitions. Nature 374:227-232.

Well, maybe. There's a lot going on in that sentence

I wonder what evolutionary transitions -- I mean really big ones, like the origin of molecular coding or sexual replication -- are or can still occur in Earth life-forms?


I sure wish that Angela were here to see the pressure suit coming along.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry Presentation: More Photos

Photos from the recent Oregon Museum of Science and Industry Presentation. Featured are Ben Wilson, in the suit, and Alexander Knapton, running the suit controller. I am awfully fortunate to have such great hands, on hand! I'm in one photo, rather excited about the whole thing!

First Research Brief

First Research Brief of Pacific Spaceflight is now available to all (link)! Draft, but just typos to do now. The suit worked, as indicated by concrete numbers in my blood oxygenation!

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Dig Greek philosophy? Thank this little champ, a Medieval scribe. It's mostly from these interesting folk that we get Aristotle and his whole crew. I am fascinated with Medieval Europe. 15th-century illustration from France. The monk is cutting the parchment in preparation for binding, and then copying of information--like Greek philosophy--onto this medium.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Surrealist Rocket Paint Job

Currently there is a debate at Copenhagen Suborbitals regarding whether or not to fly the rockets with flags painted on them (e.g. EU flag, Danish flag, whatever flag). Personally, I would track down the craziest surrealist painter I can find, hand them $5000 and let 'em loose to paint the ship. With the democratization of space access that I'm currently involved in I want to get as far away from the old Space Race era--and all its overtones of technocracy and nationalism--as possible. Have a look at the beautiful paint job on the lower end of a recent Russian booster used to take the Olympic torch into space (ye torch was just carried along with space station crew, not a huge $ boondoggle just to take the torch up):


Paint is heavy so not all is possible but people are also inventive and I bet a surrealist rocket would be pretty interesting; a rocket with a paint job never seen before by humankind -- that's what I suggest.

Well, them's my two cents!

OMSI Pressure Suit Demo Mon 18 November

Good preparations on Wed PM, looking forward to another public suit demo, this time for Oregon Museum of Science and Industry on Mon PM!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Decompression Sickness Update

Despite 50 years of research on decompression sickness (DCS) (for divers coming up too fast to aviators going up too fast), the actual mechanisms remain poorly understood. Aviation DCS (important differences from diving DCS) authority James Webb recently indicated that while formation of nitrogen bubbles in body tissues is strongly correlated with DCS, this is unlikely to be the actual cause, and DCS still occurs among pilots despite all usual protocols being taken. Still, DCS mitigation strategies (e.g. prebreathing pure 02 to flush the system of N2) are so strongly inversely correlated with DCS, in 000's of tests, that they are strong predictors of DCS risk for aviators and are 'the best tools we have' for DCS prevention in high-altitude aviation. I've been working on the pressure schedule for the 2015 flight for about a year. This tells what suit pressures I need to maintain at certain altitudes while flying to avoid DCS (planning your own flight? don't copy my table, it is particular to my pressure exposure regime!). I base these estimates on years of research into DCS (32 great papers on it are here in case you're interested: https://search.knodeinc.com/viewProfile.action;jsessionid=11p6vj18liy3v13rp09yutfgl0?profile.profileId=C1869700#.UoL6vHBJPzg).

My DCS mitigation for flight will look something like 60 minutes of breathing 100% oxygen before flight, also 10 min exercise breathing that 100% ox at about 75% cardio capacity, followed by staying on pure ox for entire flight (c.180 minutes) and simple post-flight measures such some supplemental pure ox, air transport to a pressure chamber with flight lower than 1000 feet and a few hours in that pressure chamber (in Copenhagen), essentially like a decompression episode for deep-divers experiencing DCS. Cool stuff!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Website Coming Along

We're building a website for Pacific Spaceflight, partner of Copenhagen Suborbitals. Currently we're on Twitter. I'll keep this blog for my personal notes, but a lot of the space-related activity is going to head to those platforms. Have a thrilling weekend! CMS

Monday, November 4, 2013

'Within 12 Light Years'

"A major question is whether planets suitable for biochemistry are common or rare in the universe. Small rocky planets with liquid water enjoy key ingredients for biology. We used the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Kepler telescope to survey 42,000 Sun-like stars for periodic dimmings that occur when a planet crosses in front of its host star. We found 603 planets, 10 of which are Earth size and orbit in the habitable zone, where conditions permit surface liquid water. We measured the detectability of these planets by injecting synthetic planet-caused dimmings into Kepler brightness measurements. We find that 22% of Sun-like stars harbor Earth-size planets orbiting in their habitable zones. The nearest such planet may be within 12 light-years." From this paper.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Insight and Scientific Method

From a titanic tour-de-force I've just read, 'Insight and Scientific Method' by Willard Waller (1934). Naturally there are multiple contexts to all of this...Still;

"If cause is an elementary datum of experience, then the thing to do is experience it. The essence of scientific method, quite simply, is to see how data arrange themselves into causal configurations. Scientific problems are solved by collecting data and by 'thinking about them all the time' [cogitation]. We need to look at strange things until, by the appearance of known configurations, they seem familiar, and to look at familiar things until we see novel configurations which makes them appear strange. We must look at events until they become luminous. That is scientific method. Quantification is not the touchstone of scientific method. Insight is the touchstone."

"Herbert Blumer seems to be very close to this point of view...[writing]...'What is needed is observation freely reflective and flexible in perspective. Scientific observation...is just this. It places emphasis on exploration, turning over and around, looking intently here and there, now focusing attention on this, now on that. It is flexible scrutiny guided by sensitized imagination. One sees it clearlu in the work of Darwin, who, incidentally, used neither instruments nor mathematics.'"

And on p.290 Waller writes:

"No virtuosity of technique can compensate for want of understanding."



Waller, W. 1934. Insight and Scientific Method. American Journal of Sociology XL(3):285-297.

He quotes:

Blumer, H. 1930. Review of Lundberg's Social Research. American Journal of Sociology XXXV(6):1102.

Waller's article goes on to define scientific insight and methods of attaining it. He also takes to task Pearson's (of 'Pearson's r') statistical approach to experience and what it means for scientific understanding. I agree with about 2/3rd's of Waller's points and love 3/3rd's of his writing.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pacific Spaceflight on Twitter

The organization we're building as an umbrella for several space projects is @Pacific_Space. Here's the link.

Friday, October 25, 2013

DIY Pressure Suit Testing Feature Parts II and III

Parts II and III (the conclusion) are now up at explorersweb.com, the premiere website for global exploration; air, space, polar, mountain and ocean. Thanks to Tina Sjogren for covering the story!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Feature at Explorersweb.com

Online now, part 1, and parts 2 and 3 in the next few days: click here for the story.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Smashing the ‘Right Stuff' Fallacy: Building a Pressure Suit for DIY Space Flight

An upcoming talk and pressure suit demo for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. These are always fun!

Science Pub Hillsboro

Smashing the ‘Right Stuff' Fallacy: Building a Pressure Suit for DIY Space Flight with Dr. Cameron M. Smith

Space suits are simple in principle and are mostly used for launch to orbit and return to Earth. Still, building such a garment has taken Dr. Cameron M. Smith five years, but it’s kept him alive during several tests (underwater, altitude chamber, hours-sitting pressurized) and is now ready for a rebuild so that he can fly it to above the 63,000-foot ‘Armstrong Line’ in Summer 2015 in the first manned flight of Copenhagen Suborbitals' DIY manned space program. In this talk, Dr. Smith will cover the history of the Copenhagen project, why an anthropologist became involved with space exploration, and introduce a new partnership with Copenhagen Suborbitals.

Dr. Cameron M. Smith of Portland State University's Department of Anthropology began his career excavating million-year-old stone tools in Africa and today combines his archaeological interests with a consideration of human evolution and space colonization. He is applying his interests in his collaboration with the scientists at Icarus Interstellar's Project Hyperion, a reference study for an interstellar craft capable of voyaging to a distant star by the end of this century.

Recently Dr. Smith presented a paper at the NASA/DARPA '100 Year Starship Study.' His recent publications include "Starship Humanity" (Scientific American, Jan. 2013) and the book "Emigrating Beyond Earth: Human Adaptation and Space Colonization (Springer-Praxis, 2013).

A recent interview with Dr. Smith, about interstellar human evolution, can be found at Scientific American podcasts.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Goodbye, Gondola!

Goodbye Gondola! The entire gondola mockup has been entirely dismantled after occupying my place since New Year's day 2012. You can bet we cannibalized every useful valve and millimeter of wire from the old girl! This is because we will now build a metal replica of the entire 1.6m-diameter Tycho capsule, built in Denmark, here in my apartment. And that's because to integrate the suit with the capsule we have to get very specific now, as the pilot, for example, will ride on the back, not seated upright as Ben Wilson is here, in one of many thrilling tests in the past couple of years. And in 15 I'll fly in a capsule under a balloon to test the life support system above the Armstrong Limit (63k feet). Time to start training -- simulated flights complete with comms, expendables (coolant ice, battery power, breathing gas) and so on. It was great living with the gondola, but that's all over!

Friday, October 18, 2013

New Publications

Two new publications out, one on models of cultural evolution in Physics of Life Reviews, the other a popular science feature on evolution in Skeptical Inquirer. PDF's can be found under links ('Papers', and 'Popular Science', respectively) at my Academia.edu page.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different

While I am working on organizational issues regarding the pressure suit, I am also working on my Fall 2014 book, "Atlas of Human Prehistory". This diagram sketches out the origins of anatomically- and behaviorally-modern humans in Africa. Each such diagram will be on one large page, the facing page will be a dense essay covering all sites mentioned and summarizing the issue. Lotta work to do, 100 diagrams, 100 dense pages, each heavily referenced! Yahoo!

Link to PDF diagram.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Move Forward!

Occasionally I like to post here a piece of music that seems to move me forward in my thoughts and actions. I imagine this will do something, for someone, somewhere :)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

New Team Member

A good photo of the newest team member here at Project ALPHA (name to be changed soon), engineer Bruce Mataya. He's worked on Mars rover systems, the Air Force 1 coffee system (do you think that is low-priority? think again!), micropumps for several satellite systems and Formula 1 vehicles.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Great Talk by Peter Madsen of Copenhagen Suborbitals

Great talk by Peter Madsen, cofounder of Copenhagen Suborbitals, which we have joined since August 2013.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pressure Suit Altitude Chamber Test - Copenhagen 2013

If you missed it first time 'round, here is the altitude chamber test of the pressure suit I built over the last four years, five if you include a year of just reading It was one heck of a great day in Copenhagen! Narrated by Kristian Benge, lead capsule designer at Copenhagen Suborbitals. CS were recently awared the FAI Breitling Award for years of working on putting a person into space by a private, DIY approach. Congratulations guys! Here in Portland our organization is now coming together as the US arm of CS (website etc on the way), working on the space suit and life-support systems, which I'll test in a 2015 balloon flight to above the Armstrong Line (c.65k feet) where a pressure suit is absolutely mandatory for survival. Cheers, Cameron M. Smith

Monday, October 7, 2013


I am awfully lucky to have made our connection with Copenhagen Suborbitals this year. I'm heading back there ASAP; certainly next summer, hopefully as soon as this Winter. Above, photo from the home page of the Danish Ministry of Science Facebook page; for a promo of their upcoming Science Night (Kulturnat Uddannelsesministeriet) they've used a photo of the pressure suit! I'm in good company.

It Can't Be Done!

I have very little time or patience with people who say that "you can't possibly do space missions privately!" These are voices of the sadly wrong, the least imaginative people around. Precisely the same statements were made about such crude things as aeroplanes!In the 1920's, aeroplanes were just playthings of the rich...a decade later they transported the wealthy...and today we scrabble around to save a $20 here or there to make a flight to Nevada! The same trajectory will of course be duplicated with space access.

In 2015 I am flying my suit, life-support system and balloon to a great height, and, wow, that will happen despite many detractors who like to sit at their computers, telling me why I will fail!

Some time in the next few weeks explorersweb.com will run an article of mine RE our recent pressure suit tests in Copenhagen. Here is a part in which I expand on larger issues:

"It's taken a generation for the truth to sink in: we really did kill the Apollo missions, the human exploration of space. We really did quit. So at Copenhagen Suborbitals and Project ALPHA (and many other private enterprises worldwide) we are taking the first steps ourselves, retracing exactly, and slowly, and hazardously, the steps that first put humans into space just over a generation ago...Forget 'space' as the domain only of NASA or the Russian space program; both of those structures are now sad husks, each wildly out of touch with significantly reduced global economy. Forget exploring Mars on a NASA expedition; we’re going to spend the next two generations just getting our crumpled country functioning again. So we must now rebuild human space activity, from the ground up, privately. OK…let’s draw up a plan. Let’s start building." -- ((c) 2013) Cameron M. Smith

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A JRR Tolkien Quotation

From "The Lord of the Rings":

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was a light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach...Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Where there is life, JRRT also wrote, there is also hope!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Lucretius on the Passage of Time

Every time I look into my battered old copy of Lucretius' 'On the Nature of the Universe' I unearth yet more treasure!

"Look all about you and you will see the very stones mastered by age; tall towers in ruin and their masonry crumbling; temples and images of gods defaced, their destined span not lengthened by any sanctity that avails against the laws of nature...the collapsed monuments of men ask whether you believe that they in their turn grow old..." -- Lucretius, c.80BC. The translation I own is (c) 1951 by R.E. Latham, published in 1994 by Penguin; it's a good and readable work.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

First Post-Copenhagen Organizational Meeting for Project ALPHA

First meeting after joining with Copenhagen Suborbitals. From L to R, me, Alexander Knapton, the Planning Board with 2014 Water / Capsule Testing and 2015 Flight issues laid out, Nicholas Walleri and Ben Wilson. Missing here are Washoe McGruder, John F. Haslett and Bruce Matiya. Website, etc. all in the works now. The days of working on this alone are over, as we are part, now, of a manned space program. All well! Second photo shows Apollo 1 crew in water training some months before their fatal launch-pad fire in January 1967.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Newton, Again!

"A man may imagine a thing that is false, but he can only understand a thing that is true. For if a thing be false, the apprehension of it is not understanding."

-- Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

Photo: a beautiful bust of Newton, on the desk of N. DeGrasse Tyson!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

New Article in OMNI: Seeing Stars: Sex in Space

We're going nowhere, long term, away from Earth, until we grapple with both biological reproduction off-Earth (sex) and the many ways that issue is blurred and mediated interpersonally (sexuality). In this article for the venerable and now resurrected futurist magazine OMNI, I introduce some of these issues. Thanks to editor Claire L. Evans for asking for this article.

If the anthropological issues regarding human space migration interest you, you might like to have a look at my recent book, Emigrating Beyond Earth: Human Adaptation and Space Colonization (Springer, 2012).

Sunday, September 22, 2013


After last Sunday's demonstration of the suit at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (pictured; me, Washoe Magruder in the suit, Ben Wilson, Nicholas Walleri, Alexander Knapton, and a space enthusiast wearing a costume!) today I knocked out some organizational issues today in preparation for our first formal post-Copenhagen organizational meeting next week. Plenty to do! I also took some time to get back into some manual work, cutting a mounting ring for one elbow's constant volume joint, and in fact fitting it temporarily into the Butyl joint itself. Diagram shows Project Alpha as the US arm of Copenhagen Suborbitals; now to more carefully organize Project Alpha's subdivisions, responsibilities and schedules. Website before long to start the Countdown!

Time to Build the Capsule

Still wrapping up some results from the recent visit to Copenhagen, and now sketching out my ideas for building a replica of the Tycho capsule for closely integrating the life-support system with the suit and capsule. In the photo, Kristian is installing me in the seat before an escape test.