Monday, November 29, 2010

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach

I no longer want to be an astronaut. I've probably missed my chance already anyway, but after reading Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach, I no longer regret that I have not left the earth's atmosphere. It is nothing like Star Wars or Star Trek out in space. It might never be so for us, for human bodies are not designed for space.

I am glad that I read Roach's book, even if I am now shelving an old dream. With a lot of wit and wisdom, she examines many troublesome aspects of life in space, such as loss of bone mass, difficulty in burping and passing gas, terrible toilets, problematic sex (probably just theoretical at this point), lack of privacy, horrible NASA food choices (sandwich cubes, Tang), and horrible accumulating smells. One astronaut said that his Gemini capsule smelled like a latrine constantly. Of course, conditions were much better in shuttles and space stations than they were in Mercury and Genimi capsules where astronauts stayed strapped into seats most of the time. It was not nice wearing underwear for two weeks when your excretion collection equipment leaked.

Packing for Mars is not all science. Roach recounts the early history of the American and Russian space programs and reveals much about astronauts, scientists, and administrators at NASA. She also questions whether sending humans to Mars even makes sense when robotic probes are so effective and less expensive. Adding living space for humans and storage for two or three years' worth of food complicates matters. Also add fuel for the return trip - no one is advocating one-way trips.

Packing for Mars joins a growing library of straight-shooting science titles by Roach, including Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. That word "curious" keeps appearing. Roach certainly is. Are you?

Roach, Mary. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. W. W. Norton, 2010. ISBN 9780393068474

1 comment:

SocrGirl said...

I just finished "Spook" (another Mary Roach book) a few weeks ago and it was a winner. I never thought that subject could make me laugh so hard.