I’ve never read a Mary Roach book, although I’ve always heard good things. I knew she was the lady who wrote funny non-fiction books with pithy, mostly one-word titles: Stiff (curious about corpses?), Grunt (curious about troops), Bonk (curious about sex?), Gulp (curious about digestion?), etc.
I for one and curious about the lives of astronauts, so ‘Packing for Mars’ was the book for me. Although I’m disappointed that Roach didn’t stay on-brand and pick a title that seemed vaguely poop- or sex-related. What about ‘Thrust?’ Or ‘Moon?’ Or ‘Void?’ How about ‘Deez ‘Nauts?’
I was impressed with myself that I skimmed through some of the cruder sections. Roach dwells on tales (genuine and exaggerated) of masturbating space-chimps. Then she spends a long time searching for an authentic zero-g sex-tape. Also I thought she was way too exhaustive in her accounts of how astronauts defecate in orbit. Maybe I’m maturing, but these chapters didn’t hold my interest. Or maybe I came to the book looking for something else.
There were quite a few factoids that I did find cool. For example:
– Hot air doesn’t rise in zero-g. Which means that extra steps must be taken to ensure that machines and astronauts don’t overheat.
– Because of surface conditions (less gravity and no wind or moisture) moon dust is more abrasive than earth dirt, and moon dust has annoying static-clingy qualities.
– Motion sickness is a common ailment in space, and vomiting in a gravity-free, helmeted spacesuit can be theoretically quite deadly.
I also liked Roach’s appeal at the end that Earthlings should venture forth to the red planet. Especially considering President Obama’s recent proposals on the subject. Although if you want a book that will amp you up about a new space-race (and that viscerally explains the challenges on living in space) let me be the hundredth person to recommend that you read Andy Weir’s ‘The Martian.’ My review to that book is here.