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Iain's Spacesuit Diary Day 1 2 3

Day Three

The morning started out much as yesterday had (minus the baseball) with us trying various ways to improve the suction for the vacuum, refine the pumping and cool the water. Mike had been preparing a back-up chemical cooling system and with us unable to get low enough pressures to bring the boiling point of the water down to air temperature to kick start the cooling, we didn’t have much choice. We also didn’t have much time, since the journey to the hottest part of Death Valley would take a good few hours. Lunchtime was the deadline for having the whole thing ready. It was all hands to the pumps – or rather to the saws and drills as we through together the wooden trolley that would carry the fridge across the desert. It was close but we made it, though without any time to check that the various components were working. If the previous evening was anything to go by, dismal failure was waiting for us in Death Valley. Little did we know it would be one of the funniest things any of us could remember, and certainly in the top 5 ‘Funniest things ever to have happened in Death Valley’ contest.

Now Death Valley is got to be one of the most spectacular places on Earth. The flat white desert floor against the rising dark mountain ranges that flank both sides give you a sense of being from another planet. It also makes for a vicious suntrap. But as well as the temperatures, filming in Death Valley is no easy matter. For one thing, you are given a ranger that tells you where you can film and makes sure that you abide by the rule of not going more than 50 m off the tarmac road. Also, you’re not allowed to disturb the surface of the salty desert crust, even though the next rainstorm will completely reshape this jagged miniature landscape of cracked, thrusted and heaved salt blocks. Our wooden wheeled trolley certainly raised an eyebrow in this regard, but the sight of Ellen putting on her copper tubing basque and then her white space suit (a late design change) presented enough of an enigma to make our ranger curious about what on Earth we were planning. In the end, to our astonishment, it all went to plan. Mike’s fertiliser cooled the water, our frantic pumping gave a decent partial vacuum and Ellen headed out across the desert surface, as if powered by our magical mechanical enema. For me, what made it a great moment wasn’t that the temperature dropped as she went, but more that the trolley slowly disintegrated en route, its wheels first sagging, then tilting then falling off, forcing a valiant Ellen to unceremoniously haul the thing to its destination. The scientists, the production team, the ranger and even some passing tourists that had stopped to watch were in hysterics. Six hours ago few if any of us gave this any hope of working. Even the fridge had tried its best to self destruct on us. But it was great to see that when you throw some basic science and some enthusiastic determination at a problem, sometimes it can actually come off. Wonderful stuff!

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Scientist Diaries

How did the rest of the Rough Scientists approach the spacesuit task? Find out in their diaries: