Sunday, November 21, 2010

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

Mary Roach has an amazing curiosity, is a very competent researcher and writer, and is FUNNY (not that dissimilar to Bill Bryson), and these combined elements,  create one hell of a entertaining read. Nearly everyone, including me, went crazy for her first book Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers, which was about more than anyone could ever want to know about dead bodies. Then she stumbled into her next book Spook: Science Tackles The Afterlife, rebounded pretty good with Bonk: The Curious Coupling Of Science And Sex, and now in Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, she’s packed the pages with space travel trivia not ordinarily covered by NASA (or anyone else for that matter).

Roach covers peeing, pooping, farting, barfing, sweating, and sex (acts that significantly rely on gravity, which isn’t readily available in space). She shares much (almost too much) history about the space race between the US and Russia, but since it’s mostly stuff I’d never heard before or have forgotten (“thank you Teflon brain”), it was interesting. She interviewed a wad of ex-astronauts (aren’t they all?) and that was sort of interesting, too.

But the part I liked best was the extraordinary NASA and science focus on trying to help humans function in space. Apparently we’re not meant to go where no man has gone before. The lack of gravity really messes us up, and the length of time it takes to get anywhere is longer than anybody wants to spend with anyone else in a capsule the size of an SUV. Packing for Mars brings to light just how daunting a task this is. As such, I don’t think we’ll need to worry about packing any time soon.

On a final note, I would add that I listened to this book on my iPod and wished I hadn’t. In spite of fascinating factoids, and Mary Roach’s spanking good writing and fab sense of humor, Sandra Burr’s monotone reading of the audible version dang near put me into a coma. Do not listen to Packing for Mars but read it. It’s fun.

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