Mary Roach needs to stop writing about topics like sex and death and instead start writing entire science textbooks. Seriously. Her writing is so engaging that she could be enthralling whole generations of schoolchildren. She is the rare sort of author whose books will suck you in, even if you typically avoid science writing or nonfiction in general. She’s just that good.
I suppose it helps that she picks really cool topics—in this case, living in outer space—and that she homes in on the oddball details that make the science come to life. For instance, it may interest you to know that height restrictions have loosened since the dawn of the space age (all but the very shortest and very tallest can aspire to travel in space), but those who suffer from habitual bad breath will not be competitive, nor will those who snore excessively. No one wants to be trapped for months on the International Space Station alongside someone with stinky breath.
Roach is able to regale readers with all the juiciest tidbits because she does a very thorough job of investigating her topics. In preparation for this book, she actually applied to be a test subject for a simulation of an expedition to Mars. Unfortunately, when a follow-up phone call came at 4:30 one morning, she snapped at the interviewer, thereby removing herself from the pool: Astronauts must respond calmly to interruptions at any time of day.
Roach did however immerse herself in the next-best thing to space flight. She experienced zero-gravity while on board a NASA C-9 plane. Through very careful maneuvering, the plane plunges down, then shrieks back up; then down and back up; down and back up. Called “parabolic flight,” this technique creates temporary conditions of zero-G within the Earth’s atmosphere. It is used to test conditions for humans and equipment before sending them into space, and to let investigative reporters experience weightlessness for themselves.
“When I get back to my room to review my notes,” confesses Roach after this experience, “I find that I’ve written nothing of substance. I wasn’t so much taking notes as testing my Fisher Space Pen. My notes say: “WOO” and “yippee.”
That, of course, is the other explanation for Roach’s sheer readability. She’s funny. She incorporates her own humorous observations with the humor inherent to her subject. Consider the Space Beauty Treatment. With no gravity mucking about, your hair has more body, your blood comes to your head to flush away wrinkles, your organs scoot up to give you a skinnier waist, and your breasts stop sagging.
Still not convinced? Fine. Here’s my trump card. If you read this book, you’ll find out what it’s like to have sex in space. Hint: duct tape may be necessary.
Check the WRL catalog for Packing for Mars