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One Book One Marin–Chapter 7: What an Impact!

Packingformarscover That was a painful last chapter, eh? Reading about the effects of lateral impacts on your brain (swelling of the axon separating the two lobes? Not good…), or the concern of vibrating organs practically had me curled up in a ball, wincing gingerly as I continued to read. And where in the world do they get test subjects who willingly submit to undergoing various stages of head trauma all for the name of science? Don’t get me wrong; these studies are of course morbidly fascinating and extremely important. But it takes a certain sort of bravery to sign up for bodily torture. Come to think of it, I’d be interested in a book on about the people who volunteer for dangerous science experiments…

Have any of you read Mary Roach’s fascinating and equally descriptive book, Stiff: the Curious Life of Human Cadavers? If you haven’t and you’re enjoying Packing for Mars, particularly this chapter, I’d recommend checking it out. The first paragraph of chapter 7 reminded me of a similar chapter in Stiff where Roach describes the benefits of using cadavers as crash-test dummies. From Stiff: “UM 006 is a cadaver who recently journeyed across Detroit…his job, which he will undertake at approximately 7pm tonight is to be hit in the shoulder with a linear impactor…by agreeing to be walloped in the shoulder, cadaver UM 006 is helping researchers figure out how  much force a human shoulder in a side-impact car crash can withstand before it registers serious injury.” (p.867) And now, from PFM: “Subject F wears blue Fruit of the Loom underpants and no shirt, as though he were lounging around his own apartment. He looks deeply relaxed. As dead men do…Were F alive, he would not be so relaxed. In a few hours, a piston as fat as a redwood will shoot a slug of pressurized air at the seat in which he’ll be strapped. Both the force of the impact and the position of the seat can be adjusted to create whatever crash scenario a researcher requires: a head-on into a wall at 65 miles per hour, say, or one car broadsiding another going 40. Today it’s NASA’s new Orion capsule, dropping from space onto the sea. F gets to play astronaut.” (p.131)

Roach writes “if you read just one astronaut memoir in your life, make it Mullane’s” (p.145)…well, you’re in luck! The Mill Valley Library has a copy of Mike Mullane’s book, Riding Rockets: the Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut available for check out.

~Ali B.

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