Packing for Mars - Mary Roach
She's done it again. Mary Roach, author of such delightfully compelling treatises as Bonk, Spook, and my all-time favourite science book, Stiff, has once again captured my imagination in her most recent book, Packing for Mars. As has become standard practice, Mary Roach manages to answer all my questions, including some I didn't even know I had, this time about life in zero gravity.
In Packing for Mars, Roach sits in on the grueling and often perplexing astronaut selection process at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, chronicles odd and little known aspects of the historical space race, and speculates on some challenges of life in space which had never previously occurred to me.
Oh sure, everybody has thought about pooping in space (even though the particular challenges of fecal popcorning, free-floating escapees, and fecal dust blowback are matters that have eluded even my 10-year-old boy imagination), but NASA has done more than just think about it and giggle. They actually employ engineers who study the degree of curl that occurs without gravity to pull the feces straight as it is being emitted. This is crucial information to have when designing aerospace waste collections systems, in order to prevent the curlage from blocking the top of the narrow evacuation tube. True story.
And if it were not for Mary Roach, I would never have known about this.
There is actually much more to Packing for Mars than poop stories. While researching this book, Roach traveled to Devon Island to participate in Mars simulation studies, took a parabolic flight on a Vomit Comet, visited bone-loss study volunteers lying prone for three months at a time, and kept filtered urine in her fridge for drinking purposes, much to the dismay of her long-suffering husband, Ed.
With fascinating topics such as the development of astronaut food, speculations about the challenges of sex and childbirth in zero gravity, and a compelling look at historical space hygiene (or lack thereof) studies, this book holds something captivating for everyone. You have to read Packing for Mars.