`Packing for Mars` demystifies space
London: Mary Roach has made a career writing books that answer questions most people would never think to ask. Having already given readers more than they ever wanted to know about the science of cadavers ("Stiff"), souls ("Spook") and sex ("Bonk"), she turns her inquisitive mind to the cosmos.
‘Packing for Mars’ is a book even the most casual space geek will enjoy. From the race to the moon in the `60s to the current goal of a manned mission to Mars by 2030, the book features chapters exploring everything from vomiting in zero gravity ("Throwing Up and Down") to sex in space ("The Three-Dolphin Club"). It`s written in a very casual style, with Roach inserting herself into the story whenever her curiosity demands it. She takes a ride aboard NASA`s tricked-out C-9 to experience weightlessness and drinks her own filtered urine — all in the name of research.
Each chapter contains at least one laugh-out-loud moment, many due to NASA terminology for the most unusual circumstances. It`s worth reading the book just to learn the space agency`s definition of "fecal popcorning" and "self-stim."
In between the laughs, though, there`s some serious science explained. As Roach puts it in her foreword: "Everything one takes for granted on Earth must be rethought, relearned, rehearsed." It`s with that premise that she talks to psychologists about the mental aspect of spending months in orbit, nutritionists about the research behind freeze-dried and food-in-a-tube, and a dermatologist about Gemini VII — the medical dress rehearsal for the Apollo lunar program that Roach sums up as "two men, two weeks, no bathing, same underwear."
By the end of the book, Roach circles back around to her title and reveals she`s a firm supporter of going to Mars — no matter what kind of wacky experiments it`s going to take to figure out how the human body can sustain 500 days without gravity. "I see a back-handed nobility in excessive, impractical outlays of cash prompted by nothing loftier than a species joining hands and saying, `I bet we can do this,`" she writes.
I nominate Mary Roach to be the writer who can chronicle all the fun leading up to the American flag on Martian soil.