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Natick Gear's at the Top of Its Game

Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2001 – Equipment and food from the Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., has been on the top of the world since March 11.

Through a cooperative research and development agreement, the Natick center provided International Mountain Guides' Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition Team with four tents and four solar electricity panels to use on Mount Everest, the world's tallest mountain. The climbers also are assessing the high-altitude effectiveness of the DoD Combat Feeding Program's Meals, Ready-to-Eat, HooAH! nutrition bars and energy-boosting Ergo drink powder.

The equipment and supplies were flown to Kathmandu, Nepal, for the 2001 expedition, which has been examining further the fate of British mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. The two disappeared on June 8, 1924, during an attempt to be the first men to scale Everest.

Eric Simonson, head of International Mountain Guides, led a 1999 expedition that discovered Mallory's remains and determined he probably succumbed to the cold after suffering disabling injuries in a fall. Irvine's fate is unknown. Although many artifacts were found, questions remain unanswered, perhaps the most tantalizing being whether the two reached the 29,000-foot-high summit, Simonson said.

The 2001 expedition consists of Simonson and four team members, two other veteran Himalayan climbers, two team historians and a team physician. The team has been retracing the Britons' footsteps and trying to reconstruct events. Using metal detectors and subsurface imaging techniques, they hope to find and document more artifacts, such as tents, oxygen cylinders, diaries, and cameras the men were known to have had.

"The expedition provides a commercial avenue for testing the performance of Natick Soldier Center items in an extreme environment where a high level of human performance is critical," said Jean Hampel, project engineer at Natick's 21st Century Fabric Structures Group. "We want to get performance feedback -- what worked, what didn't, what broke and any design suggestions."

The two modular general purpose tents sent to Nepal weigh nearly 470 pounds with poles, stakes and cases and normally are moved by truck. They are being used for base camp operations, where a larger, heavier tent is desirable to store bulk supplies.

"When (Simonson) found out about these tents, he said it was the answer to his need for heavy-duty tents," Hampel said.

Two command post tents were designated for the advanced base camp. Yaks can carry the tents separated into 50-pound segments. One vestibule connects the two tents, and the second serves as an entrance. Both have floors. The flexible solar panels measure 10 feet long by 1 foot wide, fasten atop the vestibules or command post tents and produce 40 watts of power under full sunlight. They supply power for fluorescent lights inside the tent and charge batteries.

"The photovoltaic panels are part of a new research project. We took a chance in sending them off because it's the perfect solar environment," Hampel said. "What's tough is figuring out how to strap them down so the wind doesn't blow them off."

Food at the base camp is bought locally. Simonson said he planned to use the military rations when the team leaves for the summit.

The expedition allows the Combat Feeding Program to learn more about high-altitude feeding, said Janice Rosado, a food technologist at the Joint Director's Office. At one point, the organization considered creating a high-altitude ration and, given enough research, that may still happen.

"When you get to those elevations, only certain foods become acceptable," Rosado said. "The participants are also in top physical condition operating under great stress, which allows us to get useful comments about performance- enhancing rations."

Simonson visited the Soldier Systems Center in June and toured the facilities. He presented a slide show about his 1999 Everest expedition, which led to his current adventure. Hampel saw an opportunity for Natick to partner with Simonson because of the similarities between mountaineering and the military mission.

"In both you are taking a group of people who are self- supported to a remote location and trying to bring them back safely," she said.

Daily dispatches and other Internet coverage of the expedition's progress are at www.mountainguides.com. A Simonson's May 21 diary entry was devoted to Natick's contributions.

Government and Industry Partnering

Cooperative research and development agreements are an offshoot of the Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986. The agreements are a vehicle under the law that allows the private sector to acquire federal technology, research and development for its own use. They allow government and industry to work together to accomplish more than either might working alone.

In the Everest quest's case, expedition members are using leading-edge food and equipment desirable for their climb. In turn, the Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., gains valuable product evaluations.

"We're gaining test results on our items and systems in an extreme environment. It would cost thousands of dollars to do that on our own," said Robert Rosenkrans, technology transfer manager at Natick. At the same time, he added, "Congress wants to see the U.S. economy benefit from the many dollars spent on government research and development."

Natick has 40 active agreements with such companies as L.L. Bean, W.L. Gore, DuPont, Frito-Lay and Sara Lee. Many agreements involve food and clothing, but they extend to all product and research areas at Natick. Some military- fielded products developed under agreements that have been commercialized include energy bars and shelf-stable sandwiches.

For more information about Soldier and Biological Chemical Command or its Soldier Systems Center, visit http://www.sbccom.army.mil.

(Based on a news release from the Army Soldier Systems Center of Natick, Mass.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe tents at the top of the world on May 20, 2001. The Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition Team have been working on Mount Everest since March in tents provided by the Army Soldier Systems Center of Natick, Mass. The center also supplied four flexible solar panels that the mountaineers mounted atop the tents.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAndy Politz shows off his mountain-climbing style on the incredibly strong tent pole in a modular general purpose tent erected on Mount Everest. The tent was provided to the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition Team by the Army Soldier Systems Center of Natick, Mass. Politz is one of the veteran climbers who've been on Everest since March searching for clues to the fate of British mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, who disappeared on June 8, 1924.  
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