Friday, October 15, 2010
CBR Bok#62: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
I'm not sure if anyone is reading this, so I'm not sure that anyone has noticed: I get obsessed with things for a bit before moving on to something else. Book series, authors, movies, actors, songs, television shows, whatever. So when I requested Mary Roach's book Bonk, I also requested this book so I could binge on Mary Roach. It's just how I roll.
If I were to have a dinner party and invite whomever I wanted, I would invite Mary Roach. And John Krasinski MINUS his wife. Roach would have me in stitches with her anecdotes and interesting insight on subjects she researches. The reason Krasinski would be there is not of your business...
This time out, Roach has set out to learn more about space travel. How does one urinate and defecate in space? What does zero gravity feel like? Do people have sex in space? Which animals were launched into space? Roach poses all of these questions and more to a group of NASA researchers, astronauts, Russian astronauts, and scientists. The answers are surprising, disgusting, and more than a little interesting.
I found myself cackling frequently, especially during the section on using the bathroom in space. Because I'm 12 and poo is funny. Especially hilarious to me was a lovely photograph of someone in plaid pants holding a cylindrical plastic bag to his anus. (My kid thought it was hilarious too, and wondered aloud "what will they think of next?!?" What, indeed.) Did you know that poo curls back onto itself in zero gravity? You do now and you can thank me and Mary Roach for that ice-breaking piece of trivia. You're welcome.
On a serious note, Roach also looks at the sacrifices of chimps, dogs, hamsters, and humans who risk their lives and sometimes lose their lives to make others safe in their exploration of space. People have had their brains disconnect from their spinal cord while testing whether astronauts could jump from a space module incorrectly hurtling through our atmosphere. Chimps traveled to space to test the effects on their organs. Hamsters finished their pregnancies in space to test the effects of zero gravity on a fetus and pregnancy. And we still don't have all of the answers.
Roach has done an excellent job with the material that she chose to tackle, as always. I think everyone who has ever had an inappropriate scientific inquiry pop into their heads during a lecture or a science museum visit should give her a read, starting with Stiff and making their way to Packing for Mars.