Friday, October 20, 2017

Roach, Mary (Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void)

Ms. Roach sure can write! Her humor is what keeps you motivated to learn more about her subject, but she is amazingly deft with the rest of the words she uses, too. I can't believe I hadn't picked her up before.

She seems to be really, really obsessed with bodily functions. I'm glad I started with this book, because its obsessions are wrapped inside the tale of how we got into space, what keeps us there, and what we need to achieve to go much further. But, boy howdy, does she ever get excited about things like pooping in space, bodily hygiene in space, farting in space, you name it. Now, it's not that these things aren't relevant - of course they are if you're going all the way to Mars and need to figure out how to live with a bunch of other people in a small box. I suppose I was hoping also for some discussion of the problems of creating a box that won't fry its inhabitants within a month (by "fry" I mean give them horrible leukemia, not burn up in the sun or anything). She is careful to subtitle her book so that it's clear it's about how to live inside the vacuum of space, but I'm sure the world is also interested in all the other problems related to getting to Mars.

And that's where the book was a huge bummer to me in the end. Before reading it, I had thought the vast majority of problems facing us were about the construction of the box itself. After reading it, I worry more about people turning into axe murderers in space, and the risk of everything related to putting folks into space for so long not being palatable to humans, in general (i.e., "Why would I pay for that? It's far too risky!"). Her last line keeps me hopeful, but just barely.

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