Mary Roach: Packing for Mars – The Curious Science of Life in the Void

I enjoyed Packing for Mars a lot, and it made me guffaw and snort repeatedly — but it’s the first of Roach’s books that make me feel like her approach is in danger of becoming a schtick.

Packing for Mars devotes a chapter apiece to several aspects of the ticklish business of getting human beings off of Earth and back to it relatively undamaged. Topics range from earthbound research, like psychological evaluations of crew dynamics and people paid to lie in bed all day while their muscles and bones waste away, to discussion of just how gross it is to wear a spacesuit (answer: very) and pondering the question of whether anyone has yet joined the 286-Mile-High Club.

As in previous Roach’s previous books, particularly the cadaveriffic Stiff, she doesn’t shy away from gruesome or unsavory topics. (The chapter on crash survivability research was actually the most wince-inducing for me.) She approaches her topics with a lively, mordant humor, which often pops up in gleefully grim footnotes. And she’s clearly a gifted interviewer — she gets actual astronauts and researchers to say things you wouldn’t necessarily expect in an on-record interview.

But some of Roach’s footnotes deploy more-or-less random factoids, not at all related to space research. After a while I got a “hey,here’s another weird crazy thing!” vibe from these — entertaining, but not elucidating. And Roach devotes — maybe even wastes — several pages to debunking the claims of an adult DVD producer that one of its videos featured the world’s first zero-gravity, er, “money shot.” (The video was allegedly shot in an airplane flying a parabolic pattern to induce brief weightlessness, not actually in orbit.) There’s no science involved; it seems to be more about Roach establishing herself as an “edgy” journalist. Which, after Stiff, Spook, Bonk and the rest of Packing for Mars, seems to be something already well established.

needs more demons? Despite a few misgivings, no.

Published by therealsummervillain

likes: equality, making things easier to use, biking, jangle, distortion, monogamy dislikes: bigotry, policies that jeopardize people, lack of transparency

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