People can’t anticipate how much they’ll miss the natural world until they are deprived of it.
I have read about submarine crewmen who haunt the sonar room, listening to whale songs and colonies of snapping shrimp. Submarine captains dispense “periscope liberty” - a chance to gaze at clouds and birds and coastlines - and remind themselves that the natural world still exists. I once met a man who told me that after landing in Christchurch, New Zealand, after a winter at the South Pole research station, he and his companions spent a couple of days just wandering around staring in awe at flowers and trees. At one point, one of them spotted a woman pushing a stroller. “A baby!” he shouted, and they all rushed across the street to see. The woman turned the stroller and ran.
Nothing tops space as a barren, unnatural environment. Astronauts who had no prior interest in gardening spend hours tending experimental greenhouses. “They are our love,” said cosmonaut Vladislav Volkov of the tiny flax plants - with which they shared the confines of Salyut 1, the first Soviet space station. At least in orbit, you can look out the window and see the natural world below.
On a Mars mission, once astronauts lose sight of Earth, they’ll be nothing to see outside the window. “You’ll be bathed in permanent sunlight, so you won’t eve see any stars,” astronaut Andy Thomas explained to me.
“All you’ll see is black.”
Mary Roach. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.
This is a really interesting read - it’s got a lot of information that I would never have thought to think of (such as - will astronauts eyeballs become different shapes without gravity - weird), but it also has really good chapters about the psychology of space.
It is astounding to me, and achingly sad, that with eighty thousand people on the waiting list for donated hearts and livers and kidneys, with sixteen a day dying there on that list, that more then half of the people in the position H’s family was in will say no, will choose to burn those organs or let them rot. We abide the surgeon’s scalpel to save our own lives, out loved ones’ lives, but not to save a stranger’s life. H has no heart, but heartless is the last thing you’d call her.
Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Science writer Mary Roach is not easily repulsed. While researching her latest book, Grunt, Roach learned all about the medicinal use of maggots in World War I. She also purposely sniffed a putrid scent known as “Who me?” that was developed as an experimental weapon during World War II.
The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent laying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing new happens, and nothing is expected of you.
Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
In 1964, tongue firmly in puffed out cheeks, Dizzy Gillespie put himself forward as an independent write-in candidate. He promised that if he were elected, the White House would be renamed “The Blues House,” and a cabinet composed of Duke Ellington (Secretary of State), Miles Davis (Director of the CIA), Max Roach(Secretary of Defense), Charles Mingus (Secretary of Peace), Ray Charles (Librarian of Congress), Louis Armstrong (Secretary of Agriculture), Mary Lou Williams (Ambassador to the Vatican), Thelonious Monk (Travelling Ambassador) and Malcolm X (Attorney General). He said his running mate would be Phyllis Diller.
Science writer Mary Roach is not easily repulsed. While researching her latest book,Grunt, Roach learned all about the medicinal use of maggots in World War I. She also purposely sniffed a putrid scent known as “Who me?” that was developed as an experimental weapon during World War II.
For Roach, it’s all in the name of research. “I’m kind of the bottom-feeder of science writing,” Roach jokes to Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “I’m just someone who is OK with being very out there with my curiosity.”
Roach’s curiosity compelled her in previous books to dive deep into the science of cadavers, sex and digestion. Now, in Grunt, she examines the science of warfare — specifically the scientific developments that help prevent wounds from becoming infected, and improve the chances that soldiers will endure the heat of the desert and survive explosions.
The heart, cut from the chest, keeps beating on its own. Did Poe know this when he wrote “The Tell-Tale Heart”? So animated are these freestanding hearts that surgeons have been known to drop them. “We wash them off and they do just fine,” replied New York heart transplant surgeon Mehmet Oz when I asked him about it.
It takes an ill-advised mix of ignorance, arrogance, and profit margin to dismiss the wisdom of the human body in favor of some random notion you’ve hatched or heard and branded as true. By wisdom I mean the collective improvements of millions of years of evolution.
Some months back, I gave thought to becoming a skeleton in a medical school classroom. Years ago I read a Ray Bradbury story about a man who becomes obsessed with his skeleton. He has come to think of it as a sentient, sinister entity that lives inside him, biding its time until he dies and the bones slowly prevail. I began thinking about my skeleton, this solid, beautiful thing inside me that I would never see. I didn’t see it becoming my usurper, but more my stand-in, my means to earthly immortality.