Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Book Review: Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

In my last review of a Mary Roach book, I wrote that "she makes learning fun." Which she does. But she also makes it exciting and almost effortless.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void addresses every possible question you've ever had about the effects of outer space on human beings and other related topics. What training do astronauts undergo? How do astronauts shower and go to the bathroom? Why are astronauts classified as radiation workers? How many G's can the human body withstand? What are the long term - and short term - effects of weightlessness on human physiology, psychology and behavior? Why does equipment tend to overheat in zero G? Why do people get motion sick in space? What's the best way to survive in a falling elevator? (Lying on your back, in case you were wondering.)

And every question leads to a dozen more.

Roach is incredibly thorough, peppering her interviewees with detailed questions on every aspect of life in space. Never settling for the vague answer, always digging just a little more deeply, providing a little more perspective on the realities of science and engineering. And always with tongue firmly in cheek. For example:

Talking about varying gravity forces in different places on earth: "If you carry a bathroom scale to the top of Mt. Everest, you may see that you actually weight a tiny bit less, not counting the marbles you have obviously lost."

On terminology: "Compressed food not only took up less stowage - which is how children and aircraft designers say 'storage' - space, it was less likely to crumble."

On the distasteful phenomenon of in-space-flight "fecal popcorning" where fecal matter gets "decapitated" during "collection" and can escape to float around the cabin: "Howdy, doody."

In describing her subject for the book, Roach says, "Space doesn't just encompass the sublime and the ridiculous. It erases the line between." So does her delightful and educational writing.

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
by Mary Roach
ISBN: 9780393068474
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

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