Saturday, December 24, 2016

Flying and Other Vehicles

In sailing, flying, climbing and Arctic 'man-hauling' expeditions worldwide I've been lucky to build, board and use all kinds of craft. In the diagram below (made last year) I compare my balloon, an RX-7, to some other interesting craft. Back to flying after Christmas with the family! A lot of flights scheduled for 2017!

And a great photo showing balloon shadow during landing back in September! Landings are so interesting in part because our descent and horizontal rates, below 1,000 feet, are much like those of an Apollo lunar lander!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

My Talk at the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop

Early this year I was thrilled to receive an invitation from NASA's Dr. Les Johnson, of the Marshall Space Flight Center, to do a presentation on human biological and cultural adaptation to environments beyond Earth at the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop. Les's expertise is in 'exotic propulsion systems', some of them entirely theoretical and aimed at allowing humanity to explore beyond our solar system. This is far-out stuff! But we must begin somewhere. I've arranged for Les to be here in Portland to talk for the Rose City Astronomers and at PSU's Aerospace Society in Spring 2017. Here's my 25-min talk and some Q and A at the end. All of this material is being worked into my upper-undergraduate / graduate-level text "Principles of Space Anthropology: Establishing a Science of Human Space Settlement" (Springer 2018).

Friday, December 16, 2016

Chilly Times

A snow and ice basting of downtown Portland has closed everything down. Walking the streets, when I inhale the icy air and smell the ice, and hear the crunches underfoot, I'm transported back to many snowy places. Today I thought about my first expedition to Arctic Alaska in 2007. What a place! I had a -70F windchill one day, the wind found a gap in my neoprene facemask and slashed at my skin like a knife!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

New Research Brief!

A new Research Brief is out, I've posted this sixth Pacific Spaceflight report since 2014 at This brief statistically describes (but does not analyze for causes of variance, correlations or other interesting properties of the data) some of our biomedical data; particularly C02 levels inside the pressure garments we've been building, testing and--since 2014--flying.

Speaking of flying, lots slated for the next 44 days as I complete training (in Oregon and California) and earn my wings at long last!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Good Memories!

Had occasion to recall my visit to Copenhagen Suborbitals in Fall, 2013; one of the most exciting days of my life, a pressurized capsule egress test! In the photo, my buddy Kristian von Bengtson is watching over me as I just hauled myself out of the Tycho capsule's 88cm-diameter hatch! I haven't taken much time to explain the excitement of that 15 or so seconds that it took me to squeeze out of the hatch while the suit was pressurized!

A memorable, 15-second adventure! Video clip; I start out about just before five minutes in.  Today's suits are 1/3 the weight and bulk of that early model, and would be significantly easier in an emergency hatch egress!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Alvord Desert Dawn

A good photo showing Ben being put into the suit by Paulina J. around dawn, in the Alvord desert.

More frequent updates at twitter.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Yet Better Progress

The other night an incredible feeling, we had suit pressure up to that of an Apollo Lunar Suit (A7L model). Very exciting and what we've learned takes us forward, this week I'll implement fine adjustments that will put us ready to fly! Frequent updates at twitter.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Robert Louis Stevenson

"Every heart that has beat strongly and cheerfully has left a hopeful impulse behind it in the world, and bettered the tradition of mankind." -- Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ray Bradbury

“If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmilk teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture.”

-- Ray Bradbury

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Convergent Evolution diagram

The fascinating phenomenon of convergent evolution is depicted in this diagram for my students and eventual readers in a forthcoming book. For more see McGhee, G. 2011. Convergent Evolution: Limited Forms Most Beautiful. Cambridge, MIT Press.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Recent Pressure Suit Work

After a good first test flight, integrating suit with balloon, I've been working on modifications, often assisted by Pacific Spaceflight team members, to make adjustments and revisions based on what we've learned. I've shaped a new helmet / suit neck ring junction so we can start on another suit (always need severa; a main flying suit, a backup flying suit, and at least one 'test suit' for trying out new ideas, installed glove fingertip lights (red to preserve night vision during predawn suitup in balloon operations), and we have started training new team members in the many suitup, maintenance and flight operations. We're on our way UP!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Flying in the Alvord Desert!

Getting in another solo flight before final "check flight" a little later this year; the site is the stunning Alvord Desert of SE Oregon, flying my RX-7 in one photo and a post-test cold cold drink of ice water, so nice on the blazing desert floor!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Solo Flight Approved!

More flying, good landings in central Oregon alfalfa fields, horse paddocks and so on...All good landings, all safe flights, and now certificated for solo flight! What a beautiful way to fly, directly using Archimedes Principle: "bouyant force is equal to the mass of the displaced medium"!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

More Flying!

Logged another six hours and about 14 landings recently; good flying and good procedures being worked out! It is very satisfying to build my own system, at long last, customizing all aspects of the balloon and its sub-systems to exactly the kind of flying I want to do.

Friday, August 5, 2016


Completing flight training for private, hot air balloon pilot certificate!

Beautiful weather in Central Oregon, where I also visited my buddy Alexander Knapton at his own flight training facility.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Balloon Inspection -- A-OK!

Yesterday took my balloon for inspection in Albany, OR with my buddy Ben Wilson, who is a member of the Pacific Spaceflight team. The balloon is in good shape; fuel tanks, burners, basket and other systems were also given the A-OK by Alan Sanderson of Lindan Hot Air Balloons. We're one step closer to flight, and that is very close, now!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Plumose Anemone Dive 2016!

Went diving in Puget Sound, gliding downwards over rolling mud hills of the sea floor with the sensation of coasting down for a moon landing in a lunar module!

I also spent some time in shallower waters, in the sketch below taking time to examine a giant plumose anemone.

Not the greatest scans, but I don't have time to mske better scans at the moment.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

"any legitimate analogy"

A richly-written speculation on extraterrestrial life from Richard Owen's 1849 biology text “On the Nature of Limbs” is found below; if he were talking of life in Earth he would be mentioning the phenomenon of convergent evolution, but in the case of non-Earth life we would be talking about a special case of parallel evolution, special because even in Earth life, parallel evolution ins among life that is somewhat related simply by the fact that all Earth life appears to have a common ancestor. Anyway, fascinating to note that today, SETI research is well-underway and the broader field of astrobiology is a well-funded and central field of many space research organizations, including NASA and the European Space Agency.

“The naturalist and anatomist, in digesting the knowledge which the astronomer has been able to furnish regarding [star and sunlight on other planets] can hardly avoid speculating on [the evolution of the light-sensitive organs such as eyes on other planets]...

[for example]...the laws of light, as of gravitation, being the same in Jupiter as here, the eyes of such creatures as may disport in the soft reflected beams of its moons will probably be organized on the same dioptric principles as those of the animals of a like grade of organization on this earth. And the inference as to the possibility of the vertebrate type being the basis of the organization of some of the inhabitants of other planets will not appear so hazardous, when it is remembered that the orbits or protective cavities of the eyes of the Vertebrata of this planet are constructed of modified vertebræ. Our thoughts are free to soar as far as any legitimate analogy may seen to guide them rightly in the boundless ocean of unknown truth.

And if censure be merited for here indulging, even for a moment, in pure speculation, it may, perhaps, be disarmed by the reflection that the discovery of the vertebrate archetype could not fail to suggest to the Anatomist many possible modifications of it beyond those that we know to have been realized in this little orb of ours.

The inspired Writer, the Poet and the Artist alone have been privileged to depict such.”

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Genetics of Interstellar Migration -- From Science Fiction to Science Fact (as always)

From 2012-2013 I researched and wrote a paper on the genetics of multigenerational human voyaging in interstellar space. The article was published in the International Academy of Astronautics' journal, Acta Astronautica. It is a reference paper for 'worldship' planners, including those at Icarus Interstellar, the Initiative for Interstellar Studies, the Tau Zero Foundation and others. I can't give the paper away, due to copyright issues, but most libraries can get it in one way or another. The highlights and abstract are below; and this is a link to the page where the article will eventually be available on my academia site.

It is quite amazing how, since the first DARPA/NASA interstellar voyaging conference was held (I was happy to be invited to the second conference, in Houston), awareness of exoplanets and the 'interstellar realm' in general have come in science and in the public imagination. I'm thrilled to be contributing in this research field, updating important estimates generated over a generation ago and with quite different overall paradigms regarding ''humans-in-space'', some of which I tackle in my popular-science title, "Emigrating Beyond Earth".

Smith, C.M. 2014. Estimation of a genetically viable population for multigenerational interstellar voyaging: Review and data for project Hyperion. Acta Astronautica Volume 97, April–May 2014, Pages 16–29.

Highlights • I review the literature on human populations for multigenerational interstellar travel. • I find previous estimates might be possible but are risky over multiple generations. • I suggest space voyaging populations on the order of 20,000–40,000. • Other figures can be proposed providing they are safe through multiple generations.


Designing interstellar starships for human migration to exoplanets requires establishing the starship population, which factors into many variables including closed-ecosystem design, architecture, mass and propulsion. I review the central issues of population genetics (effects of mutation, migration, selection and drift) for human populations on such voyages, specifically referencing a roughly 5-generation (c. 150-year) voyage currently in the realm of thought among Icarus Interstellar's Project Hyperion research group. I present several formulae as well as concrete numbers that can be used to help determine populations that could survive such journeys in good health. I find that previously proposed such populations, on the order of a few hundred individuals, are significantly too low to consider based on current understanding of vertebrate (including human) genetics and population dynamics. Population genetics theory, calculations and computer modeling determine that a properly screened and age- and sex-structured total founding population (Nc) of anywhere from roughly 14,000 to 44,000 people would be sufficient to survive such journeys in good health. A safe and well-considered Nc figure is 40,000, an Interstellar Migrant Population (IMP) composed of an Effective Population [Ne] of 23,400 reproductive males and females, the rest being pre- or post-reproductive individuals. This number would maintain good health over five generations despite (a) increased inbreeding resulting from a relatively small human population, (b) depressed genetic diversity due to the founder effect, (c) demographic change through time and (d) expectation of at least one severe population catastrophe over the 5-generation voyage.


Multigenerational space travel; Space genetics; Space colonization; Space settlement

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Special Visitors!

I was lucky to have my Mom and Dad come by recently, they looked over the balloon system I'm building and I hope were convinced of some of its safety features! Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Long Term Space Settlement

From a recent NASA report:

The recommendations set forth in the 2011 National Academy of Sciences Report, Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era call for reproductive and developmental biology research within and across generations. The workshop participants uniformly agreed that, prior to embarking on multigenerational studies, individual ‘milestones’ should be met for distinctive reproductive and developmental phases to ensure success across these life stages. As depicted in the ‘Roadmap to Multigenerational Studies’ an intermediary achievement will be a full mammalian life cycle in space, involving successful mating, pregnancy, birth, lactation, suckling, weaning, and postnatal development to adulthood. Work needs to be accomplished, starting now, in each of these areas, especially to close knowledge gaps presented on page 23 of this report. In addition to ground-based efforts, important project milestones could be achieved through a sequence of three validation flights that will also address the specific goals of: (1) Breeding, (2) Birth through Weaning, and (3) Multiple Generations. Multigenerational success is a repeating cycle of necessary milestones. The capstone of these efforts will be the first breeding, birth and development of purely spacegrown mammals opening the door to unique opportunities to investigate the role and influence of gravity on a complex organism, the rodent.

I'm using these excellent guidelines in addressing these structuring stages for long-term space settlement planners, but also adding the important cultural elements of development missing from most space biology studies (at present, that is understandable). This approach will introduce space planners to the world of biocultural evolution, as investigated by the academic field of anthropology. Diagram below is a draft for my book in production, "Principles of Space Anthropology".

Monday, June 13, 2016


My younger brother's abstract paintings are on display this month in Biarritz, France. Exciting and interesting works!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Rapid Pressure Suit Progress!

It's taken years, but this PM I sorted out one of the last main fabrication issues and am on the verge of starting to build the main and backup suits that I will actually fly to high altitudes! No time to explain, but it's all working and also this afternoon coordinated the glove/sleeve assembly with various balloon controls, including the blast valve. Second visit to FAA tomorrow AM, things moving quickly!