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packing for mars

I absolutely love the way this woman writes. It is awesome and if I could bottle it and use it for myself, I would. Her easy, engaging style is sarcastic, witty and readable. She synthesizes information into manageable bites that the uninitiated can easily ingest and therefore comprehend.

In this book, she describes the difficulties scientists have encountered in planning an extended stay for humans in space. There are many problems the average Joe would not consider- how do you shower in space? Water isn’t pulled down by gravity, so showering is out. It also doesn’t stay in a tub, so that’s out, too. Seems the astronauts use wipes. Imagine doing that for six months!

Another problem in space? Toilet issues. This one’s much trickier and has apparently caused many difficulties for astronauts and NASA alike. The solution they first used (and the one they keep going back to, when things go wrong) is to use a bag. Now, there are some realities that go along with using a bag that I will leave to Ms. Roach to explain, but I will just add this- It seems that when you close up the bag, you also have to add a tablet which then needs to be kneaded into the BM so the bag does not blow up due to the gas inside it. Consider that the next time you hear that the toilets on the space station are not working.

mary roach

Mary Roach broaches many unsavory subjects (such as elimination) with frank candor and humor which allows you to commiserate with the astronauts. People that I considered, up until reading this book, to have one of the more glamorous jobs in government. I have since rethought this misconception. (I have also decided that until we find a way to combat zero gravity and live like they do on Star Trek, I will skip space travel. Thanks, but no thanks.)

If you are interested in the space program, pick up this book. It’s not a novel, but it reads very easily, not weighed down in ‘science speak’ that many of us cannot understand. I can’t wait for Ellwood to be old enough to read it. (‘Cause it’s a must-read for him!)

A few gems from the book:

If you don’t use the toilet or seal the poop bags properly, pieces will escape and float through the cabin. This happens often enough that it’s not unusual to find references to “floaters” in mission transcripts.

Gravity disappears again, and we rise up off the floor like spooks from a grave.

‘They didn’t want the hot water cooking the skin flakes,’ the officer in charge said, speaking four words together that have no business being so.

Under the heading ‘Experiments with Human Subjects’- a heading that, were I a doctor previously employed by Nazi Germany, I might have rephrased- von Beckh reports on the efforts of the pilots to mark X’s inside small boxes during regular and weightless flights.

‘And there are carrot coins…’ There is a rapt quality to his speech, as though we were gazing at gold doubloons.

Out of the window of a low-flying Twin Otter, ground that had appeared on satellite images to be dirt, straight no chaser, reveals itself to be riverine windings of tan, gray, gold, cream, rust.

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