I’ve heard a lot of people say that your system is just too big.
We could make the system a lot smaller if it was purely a sport unit. We’ve had to leave space to allow the divers to configure into an explorer model. We’ve also oriented the stack (i.e. canister) horizontally to reduce the vertical height of the unit. That’s one of the reasons it looks so different. Once we get away from the cave-diving/ mission-driven scenario model, we’re probably going to be able to reduce the size by 30% and cut the weight by a factor of two. Yeah, everybody’s always on me, “It’s too heavy, Stone, get light.” We’ll get there.
How about training? How long will it take for someone to train to dive the Mark-4?
If you’re an advanced diver I could get you off and running in about ten hours. With the double rig it takes more like 20-25 before you feel reel comfortable with it.
How much of that is emergency procedures, knowing what to do when something goes wrong?
Almost all of it is. Like telling someone they can be a co-pilot and you get up in the air and say, “OK, you fly.” And the guy says this is pretty cool I’m flying. But is he landing? Is he taking off? What does he do if you tell him to vector north because they’ve got inbound traffic? Things like that. It’s got to be taken in steps.
We’ve been talking about a lot of capability that will be available to support diving operations in the future. What will technical divers be doing 15 years from now in diving?
People will always be bold. Exley is about to do a 300 meter dive. There’s a man who’s got focused mission. He simply uses technology that he’s comfortable with until it can’t go any further and he’s bound and determined to crack 300 meters. I hope he does it. He’ll be the first human to do a surface-to-surface 300 meter dive. I wish he was using a rebreather. It would eliminate a lot of the reliability factor. That’s what happened to Hasenmayer. He was rehearsing for a 300-meter dive in a Swiss lake. He had a regulator malfunction and had to omit decompression on several stops. As a result he ended up getting a helium hit and was paralyzed. Sheck is a dear friend and we go back a long way. If anybody can do it, he can. The guy has got such control; in fact many people believe that he is not human. Eventually, I’m going to talk him into rebreathers because it’s really the way to go for the stuff like that.
Where will the real cutting edge be in 15 or 20 years?
I think we’ll be doing 1000 to 1,500 foot dives (300-460 meters) off a wall on hydreliox. We’ve learned enough tricks with what we’ve done with the Mark-4 to easily build a hydreliox machine on your back and make it work. You’ll go out there and blow your stacks and skydive down to 1500 feet off the wall, re-blow, bounce back up and probably get yourself a five to seven hour dive if you do it properly.
Of course, rebreathers aren’t going to get us over the decompression hurdle. Unless we come up with something new, we still have that barrier to deal with. That forces you to go to unusual regimes if you’re going to do something unique like applying commercial methods. We’ve already had discussions of putting a habitat at 250 feet (77 meters) inside the main tunnel at Wakulla and using that as a transfer station to bring the guys out. They’ll go down, do their mission, come back to the habitat which will have its own environmental control system. I can do that right now with the control system on the Mark-4. I can drive the habitat to maintain that depth.
So you’d put them in saturation?
They’d come back, lock-in to a transfer capsule and be hauled up to the surface under pressure. You’d have to have either a crane or a gantry or some simple system that would allow you to pick it up and lock it into a chamber. They get a night’s sleep, eat, and then next day you’d transfer them back down all recharged and ready to rock and roll.
It’s done every day in the North Sea. It’s just at a different level. There’s an exciting future in store for us.
So what do you want to be when you grow up? An explorer, or the head of a rebreather company?
It all started for me with Huautla, but I guess the big change took place in 1990 when we hired a CEO to make Cis-Lunar a business. I am merely an engineer now. I really don’t have anything to do with the daily operation of the company. That’s the CEO’s job. I have a lot of input into how things might work, but there’s eight other engineers who are driving this project now. It’s taken off; it’s on its own.
[Ed. Note: Cis-Lunar Labs was put on hold during the dot-com crash in 2000 when it was unavailable to raise financing to complete its MK-V rebreather. In 2005, Poseidon Diving Systems Ltd. acquired Cis-Lunar and retained Bill Stone to help them design a rebreather for recreational divers, dubbed the Mk-VI Discovery.]
Are you still working your regular, ah, um, your irregular job at the U.S. Geological survey?
About 40-50 hours a week there and about 50 hours here.
At some point you’ll just cut it off and….
And be working a hundred hours a week….
Doing what you love!
We were here two weekends ago with the entire engineering team and that’s a pretty righteous group. The topic of discussion was the Mark-5. It’s going to be out there. Everything that we’ve learned is now going to be put into this device, fully-targeted for production. It’ll be quite different from the system we’re using for cave diving. I could work on that seven days a week.
If you don’t have a mission, you don’t tend to want to invent new technology. My role in this whole thing is being out there on the edge with the equipment, then coming back with the ideas and saying, “If we can do this, we do this! Eventually we’re going to transfer this technology into low-pressure spacesuit designs and start looking at getting private operations in orbit.
I’ve heard that you wanted to go into space.
A couple of years ago when we were really embroiled in this, trying to get Huautla done, I was feeling that I was just going to retire from all this crap. I couldn’t even think about how I was going to get from point A to point B. It was about that time I was wandering around NASA seeing what was going on, and I realized that what I really wanted to do is get a long duration group into orbit and then try to get back to earth. Unfortunately, I get myself into trouble every time I talk about that. What an arrogant son-of-a-bitch! He thinks he can put his own space program together. I just stopped talking about it.
Do you foresee the emergence of commercial space industry?
The fact of the matter is that it’s being pushed in that direction by our generous Congress which is on the verge of voting the space station out of NASA’s budget as well. That’s probably good because they can’t spend that money well enough to get the rest of us up into orbit. They have just enough money to put a few lucky astronauts up there, a week up in orbit and then they come down. How does that benefit the rest of the populace? It’s time for us grunts to take over the reins and figure out a way to get up there economically.
The final frontier.
We’re going to end up taking all the technology that we’ve developed and build suits that are basically no more than workman’s overalls. They’re going to cost about a hundredth of what is presently being paid for a one-of-a-kind aerospace product. Down the line we’ll move into spacecraft life support systems. That’s the way to go and I think we’re going to find partners all along the way to participate, just like we’re doing now.
Where do you go from here?
It’s now at the stage where the unlimited possibilities are starting to unfold. It’s just starting to get fun! I have climbed the steps and all of a sudden I’ve gotten over the rise and can see where the next steps are. The next couple of years are going to be real interesting.