Tag Archives: Mary Roach

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Packing for MarsLet’s start with a disclaimer: I read this book many months ago, soon after it came out in hardcover.  While my goal here is to mostly review recent reads, I’m making an exception in this case because of its trade paperback release last month and the final Shuttle missions.

If you’ve read Mary Roach before, you know what to expect: easily accessible science, research into unusual but fascinating areas, and a healthy dose of humor.  Packing for Mars is true to form, and was one of my favorite books to hand-sell during the last holiday season.

Before reading this book, I thought I knew a lot about the space program.  My father is an actual rocket scientist, and NASA has occasionally entrusted him with things like moon rocks.  I’ve read The Right Stuff, more than once.  We have Shuttle magnets on our refrigerator, and I even played with an astronaut Cabbage Patch doll when I was growing up.  Somewhere I have a Lego set of a Shuttle on a launch pad.

Packing for Mars, however, explores space exploration from a very different, but very human, point of view.  From the psychological effects of being confined in a small capsule or floating freely out in space to the problems that arise from collecting human excrement without gravity, this book is an in-depth look at the lesser-known engineering marvels that have allowed humans to travel, live, and work in the void of outer space.  It is not just a matter of how to propel machines into space that interests Ms. Roach, but the idea of learning what humans need to survive in such and environment and adapting the vehicles accordingly.

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Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Stiff by Mary Roach

Stiff by Mary Roach

If you’re anything like me, you watch those formulaic detective shows. You know, the ones where everything is packaged in a neat bow at the end – usually with the help of a medical examiner who knows the exact time and date the victim was murdered. And if you’re any more like me (which, creeeepy!), you’ve wondered at the accuracy of that time and date. I mean, is it even possible to know stuff like that?

Apparently, it is.

In one of the disturbingly engaging chapters in Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, she describes a section of the University of Tennessee’s campus devoted to the study of decomposing bodies in various states of…disposal? Eek, that sounds a little indelicate. But get this: some are splayed naked under trees while others are dressed to the nines but stuffed in a car’s trunk. Still others are in shallow graves or dumped in marshy lake water. All of this is done under the scientific eyes of Professors and soon-to-be medical examiners to determine the rate at which the human body decays in various circumstances. E. GADS. Let me warn you right now: if you are at all queasy about this subject matter, for the love of all that is good and holy, do not do an image search of the University of Tennessee body farm. What is seen cannot be unseen.

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