The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Sep 2010

7 Questions With Mary Roach

Mary Roach

Bestselling author Mary Roach on laboratory sex, space condoms, andFelix Baumgartner’s record-breaking attempt to jump from 23 miles above sealevel.
--Stayton Bonner

What’s the deal with people jumping from really highplaces?
As a BASE-jumper, Felix’s day job is more dangerous thanthis stunt. People just have an inexplicable drive to break records.

What are Felix’s dangers?
He’s jumping in an atmosphere that’s a tiny fraction of ours.It’s very difficult to control your body there so he has to carefully positionhimself. If he starts spinning at 175 RPMs, he could literally spin his brainoff its stem. Traveling at supersonic speeds, he could shake his organs offtheir stocks or emulsify his brain. Nobody knows what will happen.

So...Is he crazy?
Felix is a very analguy. BASE-jumpers find trouble when they get lazy and forget to do something.He'll also have a specially made suit. But there’s a certain amount of risk that even all this planning can’teliminate.

Speaking of crazy, any wild stories from your years of sciencereporting?
That’s easy. My husband and I were subjects in an experimentwhere a scientist used ultrasound to scan genitals in sexual congress. You knowthe little wand they hold to your belly when you’re pregnant? The guy was rightthere holding one of those things to us. We asked about candlelight and softmusic. Doc offered to play the soundtrack to Le Misérables from his laptop. I said, “No, really, that’s okay.”

How’d you delve into the nitty-gritty of space travel inPacking for Mars?
A lot of weird stuff happens in space because it’s anenvironment where our bodies aren’t meant to be. I visited a bed rest facilitywhere scientists study the effects of zero-gravity (where bones and musclebegin to deteriorate) by having people lie in bed for three months. You don’tever get up. The job appeals to hardcore video-gamers. Then they hear about thebedpan and they’re slightly less enthused.

Space condoms?
They’re urine collection devices you slip on like a condom. Theyoriginally came in Small, Medium, and Large. Astronauts never ordered theSmall, which was a problem because they’d slip off. So they changed the sizesto L, XL, and XXL.

Size matters even in space?
Apparently.

To listen to an extended interview with Mary Roach, click on the link below.

Download 7 Questions With Mary Roach

--Stayton Bonner

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Oil Sands Project Coming to Utah

Oilbarrels
On Monday, the director of Utah's Division of Oil, Gas & Mining approved plans for the first commercial U.S. oil sands project, the AP reports.

Director John Baza gave Canadian company Earth Energy Resources Inc. a permit to mine a 62-acre pit in eastern Utah, despite objections from environmental activists. According to a Canadian Newspaper that covered oil sands projects in Alberta, from well to tank, a barrel of oil from the oil sands creates three times more greenhouse gas than a barrel pumped from the ground.

Earth Energy is still trying to raise $35 million for the project. The company promises it "will leave Utah's oil sands as clean as beach sand after processing with a citrus-based solvent."

Learn more about Canadian oil sands projects.

--Erin Beresini

Oil barrels photo courtesy of L.C.Nøttaasen on Flickr.

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David de Rothschild Sounds Off On Plastic

Plastiki
Photo courtesy of
Flickr

In July, eco-adventurer David de Rothschild and his crew ended their 130-day voyage across the Pacific from San Francisco to Sydney in Plastiki, crafted from 12,500 plastic bottles. Their journey helped bring attention to the problem of plastics in the ocean, particularly the massive, swirling island of plastic in the Pacific called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

De Rothschild discusses the construction of Plastiki, the dangers of plastic, and the power of stories to inspire change in a podcast with TreeHugger Radio.

Read more about David de Rothschild's mission in our December 2009 issue.

--Nick Davidson

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Mark Cavendish Scores a Tour of Spain Hat Trick

MarkCavendish

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Currently the points leader in the Tour of Spain, Mark Cavendish won today's 18th stage of the Tour, his third stage victory in the race, the BBC reports.

The day came down to a sprint finish after teammate Peter Velits pulled Cavendish back to the front of the pack when Cavendish began to fall off the pace with four kilometers to go. The win follows 15 stage victories in the Tour de France over the last three years, plus five in the last two years in the Giro d'Italia.

The 25-year-old is the first British rider to win three Vuelta stages in one edition, the BBC says. Despite his successes, Cavendish remains humble and acknowledges his hard-working teammates. "It's me that crosses the line first, but it's the guys who put me there," he told the BBC.

--Nick Davidson

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