By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Sandra Burr
Mary Roach explores everything from sex to bowel movements in her outer space travel guide, “Packing for Mars”. Roach participates in some NASA training to get a first hand experience of what it takes to be a space traveler. She experiences weightlessness in 22 second intervals. She floats like a butterfly while some of her space mates puke breakfast and lunch.
Pack a tooth-brush, tooth paste, and a space suit for the trip of a life time; however, “Packing for Mars” reveals that prospective travelers must re-learn living and risk dying. Before you can pack your suit case, there is physical and mental training designed to toughen your body and mind for extreme “G” forces and confined living.
Roach provides an “astronaut light” rendition of many of the less glamorous aspects of space travel. One is tempted to compare space travel to 15th century sea travel but sea legs and space legs walk in different realities.
The most difficult part of space travel is human accommodation. Imagine living in a space capsule for weeks, months, years in zero gravity where taking a shower, eating food, drinking water, and eliminating waste are all new experiences. On a ship at sea, those experiences have been learned over the years of your life, up to the point of your departure. They are as natural as breathing air. Astronauts must learn a completely different set of rules to survive in space.
Roach makes it clear that earth life and experience only complicates space life and experience; i.e. much (actually too much) of Roach’s book deals with the simple act of peeing and pooping and how waste elimination evolves from poop bags to toilets.
“Packing for Mars” is an enlightening explanation of how much easier it is to live on earth than in space. Simple things like confinement and human proximity make smells and relationships complicated. An astronaut is unable to experience privacy in a space ship capable of leaving the earth’s atmosphere.
Human nature and instinctive drives are caged for however long it takes to get to a space station or planet.
Roach does use humor to explain what space travel takes but looking past the humor one is overwhelmed by the gap between current science and technology and human travel to other planets.