What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a spacewalk? Is it really difficult to burp in space? What happens if you don’t walk for a year? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour? Which would be worse if you spent a year in space: not being able to have sex or not being able to have a beer? If questions like this keep you up at night, you really need to read Mary Roach’s new book, “Packing for Mars: The curious science of life in the void.” The book takes a look at the challenges of sending the human body – with all its requirements and desires — into space.
The life of an astronaut in space really isn’t very glamorous at all, and the topics Roach covers aren’t always the first things people think about when pondering the requirements for spaceflight. “Not the parts you see on TV, the triumphs and the tragedies, but the stuff in between,” she writes “ — the small comedies and everyday victories. What drew me to the topic of space exploration was not the heroics and adventure stories, but the very human and sometimes absurd struggles behind them.”
Yes, going to the bathroom in space is very much a part of this book. But there’s also things like how it took major research to figure out the politically correct way to plant a flag on the Moon.
To research her book, Roach toured the gamut of space research facilities and simulated space stations and ends up finding that space exploration is very much an exploration of what it means to be human. Though there is plenty of silliness and hilarity in this book, it also considers how humanity’s efforts to understand the great void have produced awe-inspiring results, such as the landing of a delicate scientific instrument upon the surface of Mars, more than 400 million miles away. As Mary Roach ultimately discovers, “space doesn’t just encompass the sublime and the ridiculous. It erases the line between.”
Mary Roach is the author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.
Want to win your own copy of Packing for Mars? Universe Today has 5 copies to give away! Send an email to [email protected] with “Mary Roach Book” in the subject line and Fraser will randomly pick the winners. Deadline for entry is Tuesday, September 21, 2010. We’ll notify the winners by email.