Packing for your summer vacation? Be sure to take along Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars. Not exactly a travel guide, but an informative and often hilarious look at the arduous task of getting a human into space. This is not book about rocket thrusters and gaining orbit, but a look at the more intimate aspects of space travel that confound NASA scientists.
While reviewing the history of the space race, Roach unabashedly investigates some of science’s most delicate engineering challenges. Among her topics are digestion, and egestion in a zero-gravity environment and the problems that result from “two men, two weeks, no bathing, same underwear.” She revels about the joys of weightlessness; “(it’s) like heroin, or how I imagine heroin must be. You try it once, and when it’s over, all you can think about is how much you want to do it again.”
Her writing is smart, sassy and well-researched, loaded with footnotes that stand out as quirky entertaining side-bars to the main text; for example, did you know that guinea pigs and rabbits are the only mammals thought to be immune to motion sickness? Dogs, on the other hand, come by the old adage “sick as a dog” quite honestly. She also delves into the problem of taking a corned beef sandwich on a space mission and the contribution of cadavers to the space program.
While never losing sight of the heroic feats that astronauts perform, Roach probes fearlessly into the “ick factor” of living in space and in the end gives the reader an even deeper appreciation for what astronauts endure in terms discomfort and lack of privacy. Whether you are scientifically inclined or not, Packing for Mars will take you to places you’ve never been before.