Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
By Mary Roach
W.W. Norton & Company
Space is not my thing; neither is watching the NASA channel. Most days I don’t have any interest in space travel or NASA but this book may have turned that around for me.
Packing for Mars is about the strange research that goes into sending someone into the void. Humans are not suited for the journey, will never adapt to it, and need to be prepared for every possible contingency. What I tend to think of when I hear NASA is the monstrous budget and Roach sheds light on why and how that money is spent, and oddly, most of it is spent on the ground testing every piece of equipment that will be hurled into space on a metal tube attached to a rocket.
Astronauts are an odd bunch, and most who own up to that title, never actually spend any time in space. Most spend their days endlessly testing things like space suits and tools rather than flying a spacecraft. In addition, it was interesting to read about some of the first thoughts NASA scientists had about space and the affect on the human body which included — will blood still flow in a man’s veins without gravity (The use of the word man is intentional. Woman weren’t being considered for astronaut positions at the time.), will the digestive system still function without gravity, and what will those astronauts eat after all?
A large portion of this book is devoted to bodily functions. I wouldn’t recommend reading this book while eating unless of course you have ambitions involving space travel, then I would say you must read this while eating to get any vomit reaction you might have under control.
Bizarre simulations are something NASA excels at. They use monkeys, cadavers, and even living and breathing people to find out how g-forces, food additives, weightlessness, and isolation will affect a person in space. Some of the isolation simulations recounted here are quite amusing and also disconcerting as I would have to seriously consider why anyone would want to undergo some of these tests, and maybe even their commitment to sanity, for a chance to look down at the earth from space.
The best part of this book — the footnotes. I never thought I would ever say that considering I mostly skip footnotes but Roach has a very engaging and funny style that makes you laugh at some of the odd things that actually go on at NASA.
If you’re interested in space, or not, this book is a fascinating read that will have you laughing and thoroughly disgusted at the same time but all in a good way. I highly recommend it.