7 Questions With Mary Roach

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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?

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

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–Stayton Bonner

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