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StratEx at the Smithsonian

The StratEx Spacesuit at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, NASM
The StratEx Spacesuit at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air & Space Museum

On October 24th, 2014, Alan Eustace made history with a record breaking near-space dive from the stratosphere at 135,890 feet. Free-falling over 123,000 feet, he reached a speed of 821 mph (Mach 1.3) before slowing in the thickening atmosphere and parachuting safely to earth. The StratEx spacesuit and Balloon Equipment Module went on permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on December 15, 2016. It is an extraordinary honor for all of us who were directly involved in the project. The exhibit is in an area dedicated to stratospheric exploration, with the space capsules for the Breitling round-the-world mission and the Red Bull Stratosjump nearby. It is also just a couple of hundred feet from the Space Shuttle Discovery! There was a lovely celebration led by General Jack Dailey, Director of the museum, and featuring pilot Alan Eustace and co-founder of Paragon Space Development, Taber MacCallum. Colleagues from World View, Paragon (StratEx lead and launch system), ILC Dover (spacesuit), United Parachute Technologies, Performance Design (parachute system), and Nauticos (recovery team) attended as well as balloonist Julian Nott and Alan’s extended family.

L to R: Jane Poynter, Alan Eustace, Daniel "Blikkies" Blignaut, Taber MacCallum, Dave Jourdan
L to R: Jane Poynter, Alan Eustace, Daniel “Blikkies” Blignaut, Taber MacCallum, Dave Jourdan

“I always wondered: what if you could design a system that would allow humans to explore the stratosphere as easily and safely as they do the ocean?” Alan’s inspiration and technical leadership started the three-year project. He did not seek publicity, but rather strived to  develop a self-contained spacesuit system that allows for manned exploration of the stratosphere above 100,000 feet. Such a system has a wide range of applications in stratospheric science, development of spaceship crew egress and the study of suited aerodynamics above Mach 1.

The team was led by Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter of Paragon, with Flight Director Sebastian Padilla, Launch Director John Strauss, PSA (Pressure Suit Assembly) Team Lead Jared Leidich, and Recovery Team Lead Dave Jourdan (Nauticos). Daniel “Blikkies” Blignaut led the parachute design team, and skydived from an orbiting aircraft to escort Alan to the ground. Dozens of other scientists, engineers, and technicians from around the world helped make the project an unqualified success.

A new book The Wild Black Yonder by StratEx team member Jared Leidich tells the stirring tale of the record-breaking project. It is an amazing story of imagination, exploration, engineering, perseverance, setbacks, successes, and teamwork.

Pearl Harbor LIVE Dive

The Japanese mini submarine HA-19 (similar to the mini sub sunk by the USS Ward), which washed ashore on December 8, 1941. Photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command.
The Japanese mini submarine HA-19 (similar to the mini sub sunk by the USS Ward), which washed ashore on December 8, 1941. Photo courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command.

On December 7, 2016, 75 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, join NOAA for a live dive on two Japanese mini submarines, the first of which was sunk by the USS Ward prior to the attack. This will be the first time the public will be able to view live underwater exploration of the submarines in real time.

You can view the dive on our Expedition Portal or at
 on the morning of December 7. Live streaming will start at 6:30 a.m. HST (8:30 a.m. PST, 11:30 a.m. EST.) A team of maritime archaeologists and scientists from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and Office of Ocean Exploration and Research will live-stream the dive. A remotely operated vehicle deployed off of the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer will send back images of the wreck site.

Holiday Reading

The Search for the Japanese Fleet — USS Nautilus and the Battle of Midway by David W. Jourdan
The Search for the Japanese Fleet — USS Nautilus and the Battle of Midway by David W. Jourdan

Looking for a holiday gift for someone interested in military history? Wondering how to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day? Making plans to observe the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway next year? Need a good book about a hot day in June to pass a cold winter night? Why not try The Search for the Japanese Fleet?

Available on Amazon or get a signed copy here.

Happy Holidays!

The Wild Black Yonder

wild-black-yonder-coverIn 2014, Alan Eustace rose to a record-breaking height of 26 miles above the earth, lofted by a giant helium balloon and protected from the frigid near vacuum by nothing more than a specially-designed spacesuit. Then he released and plummeted to the ground in a 123,000 foot free fall, landing safely by parachute in the New Mexico desert. Jared Leidich, the man who led the team that designed and built that spacesuit and parachute recounts how a small group of engineers spent three years designing, building, testing, failing and starting over, until they made the system that carried Eustace safely to the edge of the black sky and back. The Wild Black Yonder is an amazing story of imagination, exploration, engineering, perseverance, setbacks, successes, and teamwork. The stakes were high – before Alan, only four other aeronauts had attempted to ascend to the stratosphere and skydive down. Two of them died trying.

Throughout the book, Jared describes the technical challenges, designs, engineering, and problem solving that made the program a success. He also shares his personal highs and lows, many false starts, and internal debates that sometimes spilled into frustration and anger. He admits that at times he felt they “were becoming weathered soldiers in a losing war against disappointment.” The  long hours and the pressure of building a system that would put a friend in utmost danger yet bring him back to safety took a significant toll on his personal life. Yet in the end the honor of success, the reward of working with a great team, and the value of pushing the boundaries of knowledge made it all worthwhile.

Besides being a stirring saga, the book is impressively illustrated with drawings, diagrams, and eye catching photos included with every chapter. The splendor of the desert at dawn contrasted with the beauty of a well made machine is clearly seen in these pages.

Purchase your signed copy here and invite yourself to imagine the future of travel away from the planet – the missions, the craft, and the reasons for going.

Happy 30th Anniversary, Nauticos!

untitled-001On September 30, 1986, thirty years ago today, Meridian Sciences, Inc. was founded by Joe Crabtree, Dan Schoenberger, and Dave Jourdan. The company was formed to provide technical analysis and special software in support of Navy underwater programs. In 1995, Meridian received international recognition for its leadership in the discovery of I-52, a historic World War II deep-water shipwreck of a Japanese submarine found at a depth of 17,000 feet. In 1998, the company was rebranded Nauticos as part of an initiative to expand our ocean technology services to government, science and industry.

In 1998, Nauticos managed the operations for Titanic Live, a live broadcast from the bottom of the ocean, for the Discovery Channel and NBC’s Dateline. The following year the company again gained worldwide recognition for the discovery of Dakar, an Israeli submarine lost in the Mediterranean Sea in 1968, and for locating wreckage from the Japanese aircraft carriers sunk at the World War II Battle of Midway in 1942. The company has found deep sea ancient wrecks over 2,000 years old, has recovered artifacts for memorials of lost sailors, has built sonar and video systems to operate to depths of 20,000 feet, has appeared on National Geographic, and has led expeditions in the deep sea quest to find Amelia Earhart’s lost Electra. Nauticos also supports educational and scientific initiatives though the non-profit SeaWord Foundation, formed in 1999. Dave Jourdan continues to lead Nauticos in a diverse program that has included the use of deep-ocean water, historical shipwreck searches, and stratospheric exploration.


Under the Ice Cap

Nautilus in Bergen, Norway
Nautilus in Bergen, Norway

Trivia Question: Which was the first submarine to travel under the arctic ice cap? Answer: USS Nautilus … WRONG! “Nautilus” is correct, but it was NOT the nuclear powered USS Nautilus (SSN-571) of fame. Yes, USS Nautilus was the first submarine to transit the ice cap and visit the North Pole. But an earlier submarine, USS O-12 (SS-73) has the distinction of being the first to dive under the ice cap. This vessel, launched in 1917, was a post World War I vintage O-Class submarine, displacing 500 tons and able to dive to 200 feet. It was decommissioned in 1924, then leased for $1 per year to Hubert Wilkins’s and Lincoln Ellsworth’s Arctic Expedition. The vessel was re-christened “Nautilus” (sans the military moniker “USS”) and baptized with a bucket of ice cubes (champagne forbidden under Prohibition laws at the time). With funding promised by William Randolph Hearst, the boat got underway for Arctic waters in June, 1931 with a plan to rendezvous at the North Pole with the German airship Graf Zeppelin. A series of mishaps, storms, and equipment failures thwarted all attempts until August, when under pressure from Hearst the damaged submarine managed to submerge under the ice. Unable to travel far, and with malfunctioning radios, the ship was presumed lost. However, she had managed to surface through a polynya (area of open water within an ice pack) and was able to return safely. The crew carried out investigations and published scientific papers; however, Hearst considered the venture a failure and refused to pay for the expedition. I learned this bit of history through a re-reading of Rachel Carson’s 1950 book The Sea Around Us.

World War Two Shipwreck Discovered!

Anti-aircraft gun on foredeck of Amakasu Maru
Anti-aircraft gun on foredeck of Amakasu Maru

NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer and the ashore team made a historic discovery while exploring the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument near Wake Island. On August 11 the team imaged a World War Two Japanese armed tanker, IJN Amakasu Maru No. 1, torpedoed and sunk by the submarine USS Triton (SS-201) on December 24, 1942. The team was aiming to locate the wreck of IJN Hayate, a Japanese destroyer sunk by U.S. Marine shore batteries during the Battle of Wake Island in December 1941. Earlier multi beam sonar surveys suggested a target of the right size and in the predicted location. Explorers (including those watching live video via telepresence) were rewarded with stunning views of a shipwreck early in the dive. But soon it became apparent that there were subtle differences between the wreck and details of Hayate. With the aid of historian Tony Tully, explorers were able to verify that the vessel was in fact Amakasu Maru, a ship of almost identical size and with a similar bow configuration. The identification was confirmed when Japanese characters welded on the stern were imaged and translated.

Kisogawa Maru, sistership of Amakasu Maru No. 1, pre war.
Kisogawa Maru, sistership of Amakasu Maru No. 1, pre war.

Amakasu Maru No. 1 was an auxiliary water tanker, delivering precious fresh water to occupied islands such as Wake and to ships at sea. One of 26 built between 1937 and 1943, the ships were armed for anti-aircraft defense. All were sunk during the Pacific war by various causes. Three torpedoes fired by Triton hit the port side of Amakasu Maru and sealed her fate. Viewers were able to clearly see evidence of torpedo damage on the stern. Other features imaged as the ROV Deep Discoverer surveyed the wreck included deck guns, anchors, piping, masts, the pilot house and many other details. The wreck was festooned with sea life and sprinkled with a light coating of sediment. Explorers were surprised to see significant remnants of wooden deck planking, surviving after nearly 74 years in the sea. Twelve crewmen were lost in the sinking, but no evidence of remains was noted (or expected).

ROV Deep Discovery approaches bow of Amakasu Maru
ROV Deep Discovery approaches bow of Amakasu Maru

Observers ashore were very impressed with the cool professionalism of the at-sea team, including ship crew, ROV operators, camera operators, and scientists, such as we have come to expect from prior dives. Scientists ashore were able to direct the ROV to image specific features through live hi-def video feeds and a teleconference link, while archaeologists and translators worked to research identifying markings in real time. Many interested members of the public watched from their home computers as undersea mysteries were revealed thousands of miles away and nearly a thousand meters deep.

The location of Hayate remains a mystery. The team imaged two other possible targets that turned out to be huge rocks. Since the ship was blown in half and sunk near an active region with high currents and a steep drop off, its wreckage may have been lost to the abyss. Okeanos will move on and will continue its current mission to conduct scientific baseline characterization of cultural and natural resources in the Wake Atoll unit of the monument, returning to Kwajalein on August 19. Daily dives can be followed on our Expedition Portal or on the Okeanos website.



A Live Portal into World War Two History

Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Hayate on trials, circa 1925. From History of Japanese Destroyers, Kaigunsha
Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Hayate on trials, circa 1925. From History of Japanese Destroyers, Kaigunsha

You can join live tonight, August 10 beginning around 5PM, on our Expedition Portal as NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research searches for the WWII Japanese destroyer Hayate, sunk at the Battle of Wake Island on Dec 11, 1941. Struck by a shell from U.S. Marine coastal defense guns, Hayate was the first ship sunk by American forces in the Pacific war. The search for the shipwreck is part  a three-year campaign with NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, to explore the waters of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monuments. The ship is currently conducting scientific baseline characterization of cultural and natural resources in the Wake Atoll unit of the monument. A mapping cruise earlier this year discovered several objects in the vicinity of where Hayate sank. NOAA will use the ROV on Okeanos Explorer to identify the targets and if they find it, to document the shipwreck. Portal viewers can watch as it happens through the remote telepresence capability of Okeanos.

Happy Birthday, Amelia Earhart

Born July 24, 1897, today marks the 119th anniversary of the birth of Amelia Earhart. She and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared without a trace on her attempt at an around the world flight on July 2, 1937, just short of her 40th birthday. So what’s all the fuss? There is something about Amelia – her beauty, daring, and drive; her compassion, wisdom, and independence; and the sad, tragic end of her young life – that make her the classic heroine. A life of service in the public eye, a world traveler who called kings and presidents friends, a touch of passion with a famous partner, and a death shrouded in mystery, Earhart lived a remarkable life in fascinating times. There is Amelia appeal for everyone. – Excerpt from The Deep Sea Quest for Amelia Earhart

Midway Commemoration

Silver commemorative coin awarded by the International Midway Memorial Foundation
Silver commemorative coin awarded by the International Midway Memorial Foundation

In 1999, then Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jay L. Johnson announced that June 4 would become as significant as October 13 — the Navy’s birthday. “Twice a year, we will pause as a Navy to reflect upon our proud heritage and to build in all hands a renewed awareness of our tradition and history,” Johnson said. This year’s Battle of Midway Celebration Dinner was held at the Army-Navy Club in Arlington, VA, and I was honored to be the keynote speaker. In attendance were several veterans of the battle, representing the air, sea, and undersea forces that secured victory at the turning point of the war in the Pacific. My address focused on the role of the submarine Nautilus in the battle. Along with James Delgado, NOAA Director of Maritime Heritage, I was very pleased to receive a commemorative silver coin from the International Midway Memorial Foundation. Other sponsors included the Naval Historical Foundation, the Navy League, the Naval Submarine League, and the Naval Institute.

“The credit belongs to the man … who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”–Theodore Roosevelt