I’ve been rooting around looking for interesting patents to explore and came across NASA’s Apollo Drawings and Technical Drawings page. I was looking for a couple of space-related patents and started with NASA’s website to see if I could narrow down specific items to research. If you dig deep you’ll be rewarded with a treasure trove of documents, including some impressive technical drawing.
Command Module Main Control Panel
from Apollo Operations Handbook Block II Spacecraft
(October 15, 1969)
The drawings are high quality, allowing the viewer to zoom in close and see lots of detail. If you are a history or space buff, the NASA site is a must stop place.
All Dressed Up & Ready for a Space Walk
The Shuttle space suit, to accommodate the large number of astronauts with widely varying body sizes, was designed to be made up of many interchangeable parts. These parts (upper and lower torso’s, arms, etc.) are fabricated at ILC in different sizes, inspected/tested, then shipped to Johnson Space Center (JSC) where they are inventoried for the astronaut corps.
What really grabbed my attention was a pdf document titled Space Suit Evolution From Custom Tailored To Off-The-Rack – a 28 page bonanza on the evolution of space suits. I love the name Extravehicular Mobility Unit. That’s NASA talk for space suits for spacewalks.
The immature child in me couldn’t stop giggling when I hit the Maximum Absorbency Garment (MAG). “The Maximum Absorbency Garment is worn under the LCVG and provides for hygienic collection, storage, and eventual transfer of astronaut urine and feces discharged during extravehicular activities”.
Space underwear for the active astronaut
Astronaut underwear for those of us earthbound. The document hammered home the complexities of space travel. Scientists had to consider every aspect of safety, many that we take for granted. I never stopped to think about how astronauts go in space before this.
After I stopped being juvenile, I popped back to Google Patents and did a search for Extravehicular Mobility Unit. Silly me – all I needed to do is look up space suits. I was surprised at how many patents were listed. Patent #3,751,727 Apollo Space Suit was the one that captured me.
ABSTRACT Disclosed is a pressure suit for high altitude flights and particularly space missions. The suit is designed for astronauts in the Apollo Space Program and may be worn both inside and outside a space vehicle, as well as on the lunar surface. It comprises an integrated assembly of inner comfort liner, intermediate pressure garment, and outer thermal protective garment with removable helmet and gloves. The pressure garment comprises an inner convoluted sealing bladder and outer fabric restraint to which are attached a plurality of cable restraint assemblies. It provides versatility in combination with improved sealing and increased mobility for internal pressures suitable for life support in the near vacuum of outer space
This patent was filed in 1968, a year before the July 1969 moon landing. It’s hard to tell if this is the actual patent for the suits used on the moon. It’s incredibly detailed, which shouldn’t be surprising given the source. I spend a lot of time trawling through patents, many of which are poorly written and badly illustrated, so, this one was pure pleasure.
Moon boots and ring adapter
Apollo moon boots
Boot rings for Apollo boots
The opening paragraph includes a synopsis of the development of space suits, including details on how the suit will improve an astronauts ability to move and perform duties while working independently from the space capsule:
This invention is directed to a pressure suit to be worn by human beings in a hostile environment, and more particularly is directed to a life support suit to be worn by U.S. astronauts in the Apollo Space Program. The suit is designed to provide life support not only within a space vehicle but also during extravehicular activities including exploration of the lunar surface. It may also be used by aircraft pilots during high altitude flights …A primary feature of the space suit of this invention involves the retention of a pressurized atmosphere about the astronaut in the vacuum of free space, while at the same time providing significantly increased mobility, both in the torso and the limbs, so that the astronaut may freely move about and perform useful tasks.
The total weight of the suit was 60lbs, including the helmet and protective shielding. Even in an environment with gravity, this would still be functional. It was designed to be useable ‘in the wild’ as well as inside a space vehicle:
For example, both the gloves and helmet are completely removable and may be taken off by the astronaut within the pressurized cabin of a space vehicle when it is not necessary to rely on the suit for life support.
Fascinating, isn’t it? The patent is available to download and the drawings are wallpaper worthy as well. I’ll leave you with one last image from the patent to enjoy.
This invention is directed to a pressure suit to be worn by human beings in a hostile environment, and more particularly is directed to a life support suit to be worn by US. astronauts in the Apollo Space Program.
Nasa History website has a wealth of information – https://history.nasa.gov/diagrams
NASA’s Apollo Drawings and Technical Drawings – . https://history.nasa.gov/diagrams/apollo.html
Space Suit Evolution From Custom Tailored To Off-The-Rack – https://history.nasa.gov/spacesuits.pdf
Patent for A space suit for high altitude and space environments – https://patents.google.com/patent/US3751727A/en?q=extravehicular&q=mobility&q=suit&oq=extravehicular+mobility+suit
I know I promised irradiated feet, but I couldn’t pass up the Edsel of flying cars. Take a moment to appreciate the breathtaking fins on this:
Everytime I look at the drawing, I think it needs to be a deep cherry red with chrome so bright you need sunglasses to withstand the glare. Sarcasm aside, this design is very much a product of the times. Designed in the late ‘50s and patented in 1963, the Einarsson Flying Car has an admirable meshing of luxury car with the sleekness of a James Bond getaway vehicle. Oh, and those fins!
The dream of turning a car into an airplane goes back to at least the 1930s. I remember the “future of tomorrow” films of the 60s that had us zipping around with our own personal jetpacks and Jetson-like flying cars by the turn of the century. The future was so full of yet to be conquered technological wonders that would make our lives easier. Instead of flying cars in every driveway, we ended up with Twitter in every pocket. The disappointment is crushing.
A few actual working flying car prototypes have made if off the drawing board. The most notable being the 6 designs build by (Molt) Taylor Aerocar in the late 40s and 50s. One was still flying as late as 2008 and there’s a website devoted to people hoping to buy one. They look like traditional 2-seater aircraft with larger, road ready wheels, except for the Taylor III, which resembles a Franken-mini. Looking at Taylors got me thinking about other attempts, which in turn led me to one Einar Einarsson and his patent for a Flying Car.
EINARSSON FLYING CAR
May 21, 1963
Filed Aug 12 1959
Inventor: Einarsson Einar
A vehicle capable of cruising on land and in the air comprising a body, a plurality of wheels mounted under the body to support the vehicle while on the ground, means for supplying power to the wheels for cruising on the ground, front and rear propellers mounted on the body to provide for take-off and cruising power when in the air, and a pair of pivotally mounted wings secured on the body and being adjustable as to the angles to the horizontal for take-off and cruising positions for the wings, said propellers being connected to receive power from the power supplying means and the wings forming a wing extending from the front propeller to the rear propeller with a bridging element to receive the pressure between the propellers
Einarsson’ s design borrows heavily on the Aerocar idea, with a number of alterations that shows a bit of forward thinking. Looking through the cited patents in Einarsson’s filings, I find it curious there are no references to Molt Taylor’s patents. However, I’m neither a lawyer nor an engineer and my knowledge of both is just enough to show how much I don’t know.
Unlike almost every flying car design I looked at, Einarsson seemed to envision a luxury sedan with wings, rather than a compact, economical model. It would be the ultimate marriage of the sleek 1950s tail fin stylings with a private aircraft.
The Taylor flying car relied on a push propeller. For those in the audience who aren’t aviation fans, let’s take a quick break to explain. The rest can skip down a few paragraphs. Aircraft today (excluding jets) generally have the propeller on the front of the plane – either on the wings or the nose. This is referred to as a pull propeller because it pulls the airplane forward. Although this is considered the traditional form, the earliest aeroplanes used a push propeller. Here are two famous examples:
Here’s a French Farman
And one of my favourites, Alexander Graham Bell’s Silver Dart:
See the difference with modern airplanes? The propeller is seated to the back (behind the pilot) and pushes the airplane forward. Many pioneer aeroplanes used this style and, if you poke around google a bit, you can find a couple modern planes that use it as well, though it’s not very common.
The Einarsson Flying Car proposed using both the push and pull propellers in what is called a push-pull configuration. This has some benefits re: drag and stability if one engine dies but it also greatly decreases fuel efficiency.
The hood and trunk pop open so propellers can slide out and be affixed front and back. “A further object of the invention resides in a flying car with front and rear propellers of which the front propeller is of the pulling type and the rear propeller is of the pusher type”.
The added weight along with 2 engines capable of creating enough lift stirs up a few questions. Looking at one of my favourite pioneer planes – the Antoinette Flyer (1906), the V8 engine in that wood and cloth aeroplane weights 209 lbs alone. I wonder how large an engine would need to be to lift a large, steel, 2 propeller car with wings, carrying both driver and passengers. Modern aircraft have the advantage of light weight materials to help with the tricky weight problem. They also benefit from modern micro circuitry that creates efficient instrument panels. Neither of which were available in the early 60s. The Einarsson Flying Car would be the original heavy metal behemoth. The patent makes no mention of instrumentation and glosses over engines, two crucial components. Perhaps Einarsson was more interested in basic over-all design at this stage.
“… each car may have a common plant to drive both the ground wheels as well as propellers with suitable clutch devices to control one or the other cruising power. Separate power plants may be used for air travel jet engines may also be used with and without the use of propellers.”
There wasn’t a hope in hell a jet engine was going to be affixed to the car. Imagine the havoc caused on roads when someone kicked on the engine. The backwash alone would be a public hazard. One also has to wonder what the noise level would be inside the car with both engines running whether jet or regular.
Getting back to the patent, Einarsson envisioned foldable wings, although this is also frustratingly vague. The best I can figure is they would fold flat against the body when not used. This wasn’t going to be a one touch convertible model. To use the wings, the driver would have to pull them out and affix them, which sounds a bit like an arm strong application – better have a strong set of arms to put them in place. I’ll leave you to read about the wings and let me know how you think they’ll work.
The sheer weight alone would make this one expensive vehicle to run. Which led me down another rabbit hole or two of conjecture – what about fuel. The basic car would run on regular gas, but the air and jet options would require special fuel. Without easy access jet fuel, the lack of infrastructure doomed that part of the design, not to mention proper pilot training to run a jet propelled aircraft. I also wondered how much space the vehicle would need for take off. This isn’t a compact little Taylor Aerocar. As I wrote earlier, this would be a behemoth of steel, chrome and engines. I wonder what the over all weight would be? I have about 20 other questions but, I’ll save them for another discussion because I can see another couple of patent articles in the making.
So where now with the promise of flying cars? Though most entrepreneurs like Elon Musk have abandoned the idea as impractical, there are companies currently building working prototypes. Look at the heart stopping lines on this beauty:
It’s from Aeromobile in Slovakia and boasts a vertical takeoff, a parachute system embedded, lightweight materials, stowable wings much more. To me these vehicles are as exciting as early pioneer airplanes like the Bleriot, Silver Dart and Antoinettes. My interest in aircraft pretty much ends with the advent of metal frames. Biplanes, especially pioneer aircraft, get my heart racing in a way very little else does. But modern flying car designs seem to be triggering the same effect on my pulse so I’ve been deep diving into flying car patents, having fun looking at the ideas pushing them forward. And yea, I’d go for a fly in one in a heartbeat. Hand me the waiver, strap me in and let’s go!
EINARSSON FLYING CAR patent US3090581A https://patents.google.com/patent/US3090581A/en
Taylor Aerocar https://www.tayloraerocar.com/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molt_Taylor for information on the brilliant mind behind it. Molt Taylor is one of those wildly underappreciated pioneers and I highly recommend you spend time googling his name.
This is my absolute favourite airplane Antoinette Flyer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoinette_IV
Silver Dart: http://airforcemuseum.ca/en/aircraft-2/silver-dart/aea-and-the-silver-dart
Farman Aviation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farman_Aviation_Works
I’m working on a number of new articles for the patents section. It just takes so dreadfully long to do the research and pull them together. Well, not almost a year long. That’s a 50/50 combination of too busy and too lazy to do extracurricular work. I have a backlog of about 50 patents in my archives I’ve been sifting through, and these are the ones I’m focusing on:
1938 shoe fitting machine patent – complete with a dose of radiation
Alexander Graham Bell’s 1902 patent for his aerial kite
An 1892 submarine patent
Fitted sheets – because who doesn’t like a patent for a torture device
The Bell patent is going to take a lot more research, so it is an unlikely candidate. It may be the fitted sheets because the entire contraption is so over complicated and vicious looking, I can’t resist. If you have a preference, drop a line in the comments section. I’ve had to layer on quite a bit of spam protection so you’ll have jump through a few spam prevention hoops, but I do enjoy hearing from people. If you have an idea for me to explore, I’d be thrilled to hear it.
Are you old enough to remember being terrified of being skewered by a lawn dart? You know, those metal pointed, weighted darts that look like miniature javelins with fins? In any other dimension, they’d be treated as a weapon, not a game for children. I’m periodically stuck on the subway with nothing to do but let my brain wander through a tangled landscape of ideas and half written articles and during a rather epic delay underground recently, I began thinking about lawn darts and wondered why I no longer saw them.
We had a neighbour, years ago, who owned a set, decades ago, and I hated them… the darts, not the neighbours. Their kids where a bit cavalier about launching them into the air and woe to anyone who got in their way. The metal tipped missiles created havoc when they went astray. I looked for the original lawn dart patent from sometime in the 1950s, but had no luck. I managed to dig up an old Hasbro patent application from 1970 that reworked the design a bit.
The pointy bit was still made of a heavy metallic material (usually lead) so it would hit the ground with sufficient force and not wobble about. The new bit was a proposal to use molded plastic for the fins and shaft to cheapen the costs per unit.
“Referring now to the drawings, there is shown generally at 10 a dart construction comprising a weighted head portion 12, a metallic shaft 14 extending from one end thereof and terminating in point 16, an elongated plastic shaft 18 extending from the opposite end of head portion 12, and a tubular portion 20 having vanes 22 extending integrally there from.” 1
Irwin also manufactured a popular series. I couldn’t find the original patent, but did find one from 19762. It looks equally deadly:
In hindsight, it should never have been a game marketed to kids. Then again, my neighbours shouldn’t have left the darts unattended, but that was the 60s – survival of the fleetest of foot. The concept of lawn darts is a fun one … the delivery, not so much if you get nailed by one, which prompted me to see if anyone has come up with a solution to their deadliness. The trick, I suspect, is the darts have to have a number of features to be effective, including sufficient weight and a pointy end that sticks into the ground, which is what makes them such efficient weapons. Without a tip, proper weight distribution and fin length, you end up having a sad game of “toss the metal tube about and hope it eventually sticks into the ground”.
The metal tipped version was outright banned in Canada in 1989. Why? According to tests, lawn darts could exert 23,000 pounds of pressure psi – enough to crack through a human skull and puncture the brain. Which it did. In less than a 10-year span, over 6,000 people made trips to the emergency room for treatment – 80% were under 15 years old and 50% under 10. The injuries included “punctures, lacerations and fractures to the head and skull”3, along with eye injuries, usually to bystanders.
“The combined factors of weight, the narrow elongated shaft, the speed that the dart is traveling at the time of impact, and the thickness of the child’s skull at the point of impact present the risk.” Consumer Product Safety Commission3
In the US the darts were eventually banned, unbanned and then banned again [see articles below for the full, tragic story]. It’s a bit complicated. Currently, there is a brisk trade in used sets. Just scan Kijiji or Craig’s list in the summer and you’ll see people begging to find a set to buy. I spotted one person offering over $200 for a set. I was a bit surprised by this, especially given their ability to maim. Nostalgia overrides safety sometimes.
As it turns out, a few people filed patents for safe lawn darts. Most didn’t make it off the drawing board. Many of the patents focused on using a blunt tip. It’s a decent idea, but the darts don’t always stick into the dirt, in as much as they plop to the ground and bounce about a bit. Given enough height, they will penetrate the ground, but then we’re back to the same issue – weight, height and skulls don’t mix. Others tried a combination of lighter non-metal darts with blunt tips or flat bottoms rather than tips. Again, people complained about lack of control when the darts were thrown. The thing about traditional lawn darts is they stayed where they dropped, making it easier to score.
Most modern versions of lawn darts have settled on a uniform design:
Coleman’s is typical – blunt, flat bottomed, soft end to prevent skull damaged and weighted to help with stability. Poof makes a set that looks a bit more like a traditional lawn dart, and using the Jarts brand name, but with a round plastic ends rather than metal. Far safer, but many people complained they couldn’t stand up to a lot of impacts and fell apart.
The biggest issue is the newer lawn darts bounce about too much making it hard to score. Most complaints appear to come from people who played the original lawn dart games and lament the lack of accuracy and control the old javelin styled darts had. Issues seem to revolve around whether the ground is too hard and dry or the grass is too long. Either cause serious bounceage (not a word, I know). I suppose you could hose down the backyard before playing but that brings a new set of problems to the game. Without the traditional javelin point, bounce will continue to be an issue. But seriously, it’s a backyard game not the Olympics.
I have an idea that might work. Get a large cloth made of Velcro, cut it into squares with numbers and scatter them around the yard. They need to be largish swaths of material or the game won’t work. Then Velcro tip flat bottomed darts. The darts should come in varying weights for different types of throwers, like real darts. Space out the cloths and then when you throw, the darts stick. Miss the cloth? Oh it’s like falling off the dart board, no score. I like Velcro – it can solve so many of life’s little problems.
- Original Patent https://www.google.com/patents/US3672678?dq=inassignee:%22Hasbro+Industries,+Inc.%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj04eSevKfVAhUi5YMKHchxCfw4ChDoAQh kMAk
- Irwing Out Door Darts Patent https://patents.google.com/patent/US3982762A/en?q=lawn+dart&assignee=Irwin
- Consumer Product Safety Commission https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2015-title16-vol2/pdf/CFR-2015-title16-vol2-part1306.pdf
You just knew I was going to get around to litter boxes eventually, didn’t you? It was inevitable I’d start poking around patent archives to see what was out there. Colour me surprised – there are a LOT of patents for various cat litterbox designs. Everything from fully collapsible to pretty little houses for the fussy cat owner. It’s impressive how much brain power has gone into the basic concept of a litterbox.
After filtering through them, I settled on the earliest patent I could find. I present the 1939 Kramer self-flushing animal toilet, patent #US2204416A, filed 1939-04-13 granted 1940-06-11
Sheridan H. Kramer, of St. Paul, Minn envisioned a litter box that attached to the building’s plumbing, was portable and could act as sleeping quarters for either a cat or small dog. Kramer had apartment dwellers in mind, hoping such a device would convince landlords to allow pets because the issue of sanitation would be addressed.
The design is interesting. The cat enters through a doorway into compartment A, which is designated as a sleeping area. Compartment B, the toilet tray, is accessed via a small opening from A. When the cat walks from B back to A, a small lever on the doorway floor is tripped by the cat’s weight and flushes the toilet.
Compartment B has a water tank that hooks into the apartment’s plumbing. The tray connects to the building’s sewage outtake for quick disposal. Figure 3 (image below) shows how the door lever is connected to the tank. The animal’s weight triggers the lever, which is attached to the tank handle. Water fills the tray and drains away through a series of holes under the tank (hard to see, but look for 26A in the image). The tray itself is on an incline so the water will flow towards the holes. When the cat steps off the door lever, the handle pops back into the up position and the water stops flowing. The tank will fill itself again and the tray will drain.
If you look at figure 1, the one with the door, you’ll see a bunch of holes in the front panel. Those are air vents. The front door closes, in case you want to keep the cat or dog in one place.
On one level, it’s brilliant. No cleaning required. On another, not so practical. Installation would require permission from the landlord, which I doubt would be forthcoming. I tried to figure out a simple way of doing it, but nothing short of having a plumber come and refit a couple of pipes would work. It’s not like there’s are in/out pipes hanging around ready to be plugged into, especially at floor level. Not many landlords would be keen on this expense. Kramer did design this with portability in mind so you could hand fill the water tank, but that would quickly turn into a pain. And you’re still faced with flushing – where would water and feces go. As far as portability goes, this box would be heavy and not what I’d consider portable.
The other primary issue centres around the fact cats can be real assholes. Sure they like to crawl into small places, but have you ever tried forcing a cat to get into a small carrier? Battle armour and bazookas are the order of the day. Training a cat to use the tray could be a nightmare. Kramer admits in the patent, the animal may have to be locked into the box to force it to use the toilet tray. Some cats might train to use it, but most? Not a hope it’s going to happen.
Another issue comes to mind. Cats don’t like surprises. The flushing would send many cats into a frenzy to get away, especially if they are half way through the door and the water comes flooding in and soaks their paws. If you have the door shut, the cat would go into full panic mode and quite possibly never enter the box again. Think I’m exaggerating? Just cruise Youtube for videos of cats shocked by cucumbers on the floor (and please don’t do this to your cat, it’s cruel and rather stupid). They don’t do well with shock and awe tactics if they are the target.
If you manage to train your cat to use the box, you might find your water bill going through the roof. Imagine coming home to find out your furry friend decided to sleep on the door lever. Or they ignore compartment B and use A as their toilet.
Too many impracticalities likely killed the idea.
This one is interesting … and scary: “a new and useful Improvement in Jack-o’-Lantern Helmets”. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a jack-o’-lantern helmet, but we’ll assume it was a thing back in 1903 when this patent was granted. When I stumbled across this I first thought of a bike helmet. After looking over the patent, my second thought was “oh … oh dear. That’s a hell of a design flaw”.
Our inventor, one John Du Ket, of Toledo, Ohio, invented an easy to ship and assemble head mask for any occasion, “including campaign parades, masquerade balls and carnivals”. He was granted a patent Aug 25, 1903 (patent no, 737,371). After reading the patent, it becomes painfully aware why governments have health and safety regulations… and recalls.
If you give it a quick glance, it’s pretty cool. The key is the use of flexible cardboard that could be printed with whatever image the customer wanted. Say for instance a person wanted 100 Frankenstein heads for a parade, or 50 copies of the current presidential candidate’s head for a rally. No problem. They could be mass produced and shipped with little hassle. Du Ket’s design allowed the masks to lay out flat, ready for the person on the receiving end to assemble the kit, kind of like a Halloween Flatpack without the screw driver hassles. No assembly was required at the seller’s end, which would cut production time and costs.
In some ways, this is ingenious. He took a basic idea and added a modern marketing twist to it – fast to produce, easy to ship, offload assembly to the customer. What, you are asking, is so terrifying about this design? Let me show you:
“To secure the parts together in form for use, the sides 6 are first folded to form a socket, and a short piece of candle is inserted therein.”
Ponder that for a moment – a cardboard headdress, surrounding a candle in a metal holder that conducts heat, atop a person’s head. One of his “improvements”, along with the use of flexible cardboard and a flat design, was the inclusion of a candle holder made of sheet metal. Not sure what the weight would be like, but I’m quite sure after a short while it would be a bit much, especially when it heated up.
On the positive side, Du Ket did consider wax spillage:
“Preferably the diaphragm 2 is shaped by a die to form one or more grooves 16 concentric around the candle-socket, which are adapted to receive any of the material of the candle which may melt and run down on the diaphragm and prevent it spreading to the outer edges of the diaphragm.”
Grooves would be stamped into the metal candle holder and a spillage area would (hopefully) contain the wax. Just don’t move your head around a lot or risk it spilling over the lip of the holder.
Now if this doesn’t scare the crap our of you, you’re a stronger person than I.
Happy Halloween …
Read the full patent here Jack-o’-lantern helmet.